Peru president: Odebrecht payments did bring 'some money'

AP News
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Posted: Dec 17, 2017 11:17 PM
Peru president: Odebrecht payments did bring 'some money'

LIMA, Peru (AP) — Peru's embattled president acknowledged Sunday that he did "earn some money" as a result of services his private consulting firm provided to the Brazilian construction company entangled in Latin America's biggest corruption scandal.

In an hour-long interview with Peruvian media, President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski repeated assertions that he had no involvement in the Westfield Capital firm when Odebrecht-led consortiums made $782,000 in payments over a decade ago, including during years when he was a government minister.

But Kuczynski did agree that as a shareholder in the company he would have benefited from any profits that resulted from the Odebrecht transactions.

"I did earn some money," he said after repeated questioning.

The former Wall Street banker is in a fight for his political survival after an opposition-led commission revealed Odebrecht documents showing payments to Westfield Capital between 2004 and 2007. Lawmakers have initiated impeachment proceedings on grounds that Kuczynski displayed "moral incapacity" by failing to disclose the payments. Congress is to vote Thursday on whether he should be removed.

Sunday's interview was a preview of what the Andean nation might witness Thursday when Kuczynski defends himself before the vote. The 79-year-old president said he handed all responsibilities related to Westfield Capital to business partner Gerardo Sepulveda after becoming Peru's finance minister in 2004 and did not know anything about the contracts until well after they were executed.

"I separated myself," he said. "I did not participate in any decisions."

Odebrecht has admitted to paying nearly $800 million in bribes in various countries to obtain lucrative public works contracts in a 2016 U.S. Justice Department plea agreement, including $29 million in Peru. In a letter to a Peruvian newspaper distributed Saturday, Odebrecht officials said the payments to Westfield Capital were not part of the larger corruption investigation underway and had been properly disclosed and accounted for. The company also confirmed Kuczynski's assertion that all the contracts were signed exclusively with Sepulveda.

Westfield Capital is registered in Florida, and company documents for the years in question show Kuczynski as the company's registered agent. Sepulveda is listed as an officer starting in 2006.

While admitting no wrongdoing, Kuczynski said in the televised interview that it "would have been much better" if he had been aware of the transactions at the time. He did not reveal how much he may have profited from the dealings with Odebrecht, describing them solely as "dividends" that come as a result of all the business and investment earnings the company might do in a year.

"There is nothing hidden here," he said.

Kuczynski characterized the impeachment vote as "an assault on democratic order" in which his presidency is being put on the line without a trial or official finding of wrongdoing.

Much of the immediate reaction to Kuczynski's remarks was negative, with one newspaper columnist describing it as a "suicide interview."

The stunning turn of events in one of South America's most politically volatile nations comes just a year after Kuczynski narrowly won the presidency. Before becoming president, he had a lengthy career in finance and government and campaigned on a pledge to clean-up corruption. If he should be removed from office, his first vice president would be next in line to lead the nation.