The investigation in Colombia of a settlement of bribes from the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht SA spreading across the continent sows a mantle of doubts about the largest banking group in the country, owned by one of the richest men in Latin America.
The shares of Grupo Aval Acciones y Valores SA and one of its subsidiaries have declined since Odebrecht admitted to having participated in one of the biggest cases of corruption in company history, which led to scandals throughout Latin America. One of Aval's companies, Corficolombiana, worked with Odebrecht in its largest project in Colombia: part of the highway known as Ruta del Sol, whose estimated cost is US $ 2,500 million.
Odebrecht paid bribes millionaires to win the contract, while Aval repeatedly said he was unaware of the illegal payments. In December 2016 Odebrecht admitted that he had paid US $ 788 million in bribes in 12 countries, including Colombia. The company reached agreements with the governments of the Dominican Republic, Peru and Panama, but Colombian research continues and concerns investors.
Colombia: Odebrecht would have paid the bribes three times he had admitted
"It is possible that information that is detrimental to us and our interests will be revealed during ongoing corruption investigations by the Colombian authorities," Aval said in a presentation in the United States this year.
Aval, a group of financial companies, was founded by Luis Carlos Sarmiento, 85 years old, whose estimated net worth of US $ 11,900 million makes him the seventh richest person in Latin America. But the shares of Aval, which are traded in New York and Bogotá, have remained practically flat since Odebrecht revealed the bribes. In the meantime his own Banco de Bogotá and equals like Banco Davivienda SA and Bancolombia SA have recorded an increase of no more than two figures. The shares of the subsidiary Corficolombiana have decreased by 32 percent.
All the news related to this Odebrecht investigationsUndoubtedly this will continue to generate uncertainty and we will see what will be translated into what we have observed in the last one or two years in terms of stock trading, said José Germán Cristancho, manager of economic research and strategy of Corredores Davivienda, a listed company in Bogotá, owned by the rival bank.
Colombia seeks replacement of judge for arbitration in the Odebrecht case
The action has been influenced by concerns that the Odebrecht scandal will spread to its partner. "That's what" the market "seems to believe, based on the low performance of the action compared to its competitors," he said. Andrés Soto, responsible for the analysis of securities for the Andean region of Santander Investment.
The Odebrecht bribe machine was active in Latin America for many years and made payments to politicians and government officials who helped the company get contracts for the construction of power plants, roads, airports, dams and other public works. They created fake consultancy, construction and engineering companies that invoiced invoices for work that had never been done. The money that was channeled through these companies was used to pay bribes.
Odebrecht's formula collapsed in December 2016 and reached agreements with the US, Brazilian and Swiss authorities, in which the US Department of Justice. He described it as the "biggest case of foreign bribery in history."
In Colombia, research showed that year began Odebrecht paid at least US $ 32.5 million in bribes to obtain six government contracts and related financial transactions between 2009 and 2014. Ruta del Sol was one of the most important.
A consortium of companies, called Concesionaria Ruta del Sol II, was established to build the second part of the motorway. Odebrecht owned about 62 percent, Corficolombiana about 33 percent and the rest was owned by a local construction company. The contract, which was suspended after the bribery scandal, is now subject to arbitration in a court in Bogotá to determine the compensation of the companies for their work.
According to e-mails sent to the court to which Bloomberg News had access, Odebrecht paid payments from Ruta del Sol II accounts to contractors who had drawn the attention of the Corficolombiana controller into the project, Jorge Enrique Pizanomid 2015. Pizano questioned Odebrecht for the payments because they did not meet the auditing standards.
It is unknown whether these payments were part of the illegal scheme of Odebrecht, but the Colombian prosecutors later discovered that the bribe was channeled through at least two of the contractors.
The head of investor relations at Aval, Tatiana UribeHe said in a statement Bloomberg Newsthat at that time the company & # 39; did not know that Odebrecht was corrupt & # 39 ;.
Corficolombiana put pressure on Odebrecht to explain the contracts. If he could not do it, Odebrecht He agreed to return the questioned amount – about US $ 11 million – to the association that was building the highway, Uribe said.
In exchange, Corficolombiana agreed not to prosecute Odebrecht for the payments. That agreement was published last month by the most influential news magazine from Colombia, Semana.
The prosecutor Daniel Hernández, who leads the criminal investigation, said in an interview that prosecutors have no evidence that other managers of Corficolombiana or other Colombian companies were involved in the conspiracy of Odebrecht.
Nonetheless, a blanket of doubts surrounds Aval and his subsidiary. The actions of Corficolombiana are cheap, but "we should have a solution for all of this, so that people think the value of the action could be restored," said Cristancho de Corredores Davivienda.