Venezuela’s exiled former top prosecutor published a video Thursday that she alleges shows the head of Odebrecht, the Brazilian construction company embroiled in one of the largest corruption schemes in Latin American history, admitting to bribing dictator Nicolás Maduro by donating $35 million to his 2013 presidential campaign.
Odebrecht executives have been found guilty of bribing politicians throughout South America to the tune of millions in order to secure lucrative government contracts. In its native Brazil, prosecutors allege Odebrecht is deeply involved in the million-dollar corruption scheme known as “Operation Car Wash,” in which it paid millions in bribes to secure contracts with state-run oil company Petrobras.
In the video, published both on Twitter and in full on her website, former prosecutor Luisa Ortega Díaz asserts that former Odebrecht Venezuela head Euzenando Prazeres de Azevedo admits to being asked for $50 million in bribes by a Maduro official shortly following the death of dictator Hugo Chávez. He bargained the individual down to $35 million in order to guarantee that the contracts Odebrecht had clinched with Chávez would be respected.
The allegation is not new – the Brazilian newspaper O Globo reported essentially the same allegation in July – but the video of Azevedo admitting it has never been publicly broadcast. Ortega appears to have smuggled the video out of Venezuela before fleeing to neighboring Colombia this summer; she has since dedicated herself to touring Latin America denouncing the Maduro regime.
The man identified as Azevedo identifies a Maduro aide named “Americo Mata” as his contact with the head of state, asserting he never negotiated with Maduro himself. Mata, he claims, was the head of the Rural Development Institute of Venezuela. “He asked me for a contribution to help the Nicolás Maduro campaign. He asked for a large sum – we had a very big operation in Venezuela – and I agreed and accepted to pay him,” Azevedo says.
The man in the video initially claims to have paid $50 million to Mata, but later corrects himself and claims Mata demanded $50 million and received $35 million instead. Azevedo notes that he asked Mata “if the president, or candidate, if he won, would keep our works as priority in his government, since they were from the Chávez government.”
“Despite the fact that the continuity depended on other types of interests, and I didn’t know what those interests would be, Mr. Americo guaranteed me that, if president Maduro won, he would keep signing jobs to Odebrecht,” he says in Portuguese.
— Luisa Ortega Díaz (@lortegadiaz) October 12, 2017
The undated video appears to show Azevedo admitting almost verbatim to the July O Globo report, which stated that Azevedo developed a “friendship that would make the operation in Venezuela one of the most profitable of Odebrecht’s in the world.”
O Globo reported at the time: “Maduro is accused of having received $35 million [from Odebrecht] in the 2013 elections. When seeking Azevedo, Américo Mata, his campaign coordinator, had asked for even more, $50 million.”
O Globo noted that Azevedo enjoyed a close relationship with the late socialist dictator Chávez, so close that Chávez repeatedly joked publicly that Azevedo was an honorary Venezuelan and the “most Brazilian Venezuelan I know.”
The accusation is not the first that Maduro has generated significant campaign money via illicit means. In 2015, Former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs under George W. Bush Roger Noriega accused Maduro of accepting campaign donations generated through a major drug trafficking operation in which two of his highest-ranking officials – former second-in-command Diosdado Cabello and current vice president Tarek El Aissami – are heavily involved. Noriega noted that he did not believe Maduro was involved in the logistics of the drug trafficking operation in question, unlike his subordinates.
Once a loyal chavista, Luisa Ortega Díaz found herself in the regime’s crosshairs this year when she began to speak out publicly against the systematic use of state violence to silence pro-democracy dissidents. Ortega also accused multiple individuals within the Maduro regime of corruption, including Maduro himself, and claimed following her flight from Venezuela that she had evidence that Maduro and other high-ranking officials have received nearly $100 million from Odebrecht.
Odebrecht has admitted in U.S. court to handing out $788 million in bribes throughout 12 countries. Marcelo Odebrecht, the head of the corporation, was sentenced to 19 years in prison in the Brazilian “Operation Car Wash” probe.