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Colombia investigates deaths of Odebrecht witness, son

A witness in the Odebrecht corruption case in Colombia died this month at his home near Bogota of what appeared to be a heart attack. Three days later his son died from cyanide poisoning. 

The father, Jorge Enrique Pizano, was an auditor for the Ruta del Sol II road project in Colombia. He raised concerns about $30 million in bribes Odebrecht allegedly paid to win the work. 

Odebrecht partner with Colombia’s Grupo Aval, the country’s biggest financial firm, for 328-mile highway-building contract. Odebrecht’s work was worth $1.7 billion.

Pizano’s son, Alejandro Pizano Ponce de Leon, returned from Barcelona to Colombia for his father’s funeral. While in his father’s office, he took a sip from a bottle of water on the desk.

Ponce de Leon was dead from cyanide poisoning within minutes.

The Colombian attorney general’s office said it opened an investigation into the death of both Pizano and his son after hearing about the poisoning.

Colombia has jailed eight people for their involvement in the Odebrecht corruption scandal, including the ex-minister of transport and a former senator. 

Odebrecht admitted in December 2016 that it paid nearly $800 million in bribes and kickbacks over several years.

The company and its petrochemical unit, Braskem SA, entered into a global settlement of bribery and money laundering offenses with authorities in the United States, Brazil, and Switzerland. The companies agreed to pay combined penalties of $3.5 billion.

In April 2017, the DOJ reduced Odebrecht’s U.S. criminal penalties because the company’s ability to pay had been impaired. After the global settlement, Odebrecht lost its big contract in Colombia, as well as other big contracts in Peru and Panama.

In Brazil, Odebrecht’s owner, Marcelo Odebrecht, was sentenced to 19 years in prison in March 2016 on charges of money laundering, corruption, and taking part in a criminal association.

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Harry Cassin is the managing editor of the FCPA Blog.

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