The case Odebrecht – Sigma is undoubtedly the worst fraud that was ever committed in Guatemala.
This story begins in 2016 when Department of State of US revealed its investigation against Brazilian construction company Odebrecht which instead of obtaining working contracts through competence was spending enormous bribes to public officials of various countries of Latin America for 20 years. Only confirmed amount of bribes comes to 788 million dollars distributed between officials of Brasil, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Panama, Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, Mexico and Guatemala. The scandal began in 2015 when Brazil police arrested one of the most powerful businessmen in the country – Marcelo Odebrecht – president of the biggest construction company of Latin America with 168´000 employees and branches in 28 countries.
Later that same year Marcelo was sentenced to 19 years of imprisonment for bribing public officials in order to receive governmental construction contracts worth millions of dollars. While in prison he was offered a deal from Brazilian authorities – he should provide information on officials that were accepting his bribes in exchange for 10 years reduction in sentence. 77 more employees of his company also agreed to collaborate with authorities providing information. The company itself apologised to the public and paid astronomical fine of 3´500 million of dollars to governments of Brazil, US and Switzerland (all 3 countries investigated Odebrecht together).
In December 2016 Fraud Section of Department of Justice of US made public that the consortium of Odebrecht accepted the guilty plea. They confirmed paying bribes to a number of politicians and public officials in 11 countries in order to obtain multi-million dollar contracts in public infrastructure; and promised to collaborate with investigation giving away names of those who received bribes in all three continents.
Immediately the affected countries began investigations into corrupt practices of Odebrecht. President of Peru Pablo Kuczynski was forced to step from power after being linked with the case; 3-ex presidents of Peru are also under investigation as well as other governmental officials. Ex-president of Brasil Lula de Silva was sentenced to 8 years and 10 months of imprisonment; many other governmental officials were prosecuted across the countries where Odebrecht did business.
In the case file of United States District Court, Eastern District of New York charged Odebrecht with violation of the Law of Corrupt Practices Abroad, specifically with section “Corrupt Payments to Foreign Officials and Political Parties of other countries”. Point F is dedicated to Guatemala:
“Between 2013 and 2015 Odebrecht bribed and organised bribes of approximately $ 18 million to corrupt government officials in Guatemala to receive contracts of public infrastructure”.
This is a clear reference to the contract given to Odebrecht of approximately $ 400 million to build a road from CA-2 Occidente de Cocales to Tecun Uman. For its payment the State of Guatemala took a loan from BNDES (National Bank of Economical and Social Development) of Brasil. Despite the fact that Odebrecht built only 40 km of the road which is 28.5 % of the total 140 km contract, they received $ 300 million from the bank, which is 78 % of the total amount of contract.
In order for a fraud of such magnitude to be possible Odebrecht had to act together with Ministry of Communication, Ministry of Public Finances and General Controller of Accounting as well as other governmental institutions.
In the beginning of 2017 it became clear how Odebrecht stole $ 400 million from Guatemalan people thanks to investigations realised by US and Brasil. The money was transferred to Odebrecht, the road was never built and corrupt public officials were identified; however, Ivan Velasquez, Thelma Aldana and Juan Francisco Sandoval remain suspiciously silent without ever commenting on these crimes.
On 17th of February 2017, 11 countries that were affected by Odebrecht´s fraud were represented in Brazil through their attorney generals. They agreed on the strategies and tools that will be used to further the investigation into Odebrecht case and its accomplices. Basically Odebrecht created an underground financial net of corruption between three continents. The only attorney general who didn´t assist the meeting was Thelma Aldana from Guatemala which is hard to understand since Guatemala lost the most money out of all countries because of Odebrecht.
Another interesting fact is that the first accusation against Odebrecht was presented in Guatemala on 11th of October 2012 when Congress Deputy Roberto Villate publicly denounced various deputies who received bribes from Odebrecht. Up to this date (2020) no further investigation was made into this accusation and everyone simply ignored it. Let me share a video with you regarding this denouncement.
Here we can see the Diary of Congress Sessions where deputies speak of governmental officials who were bribed by Odebrecht – 11th of October 2012.
Here we can see that payment to Odebrecht for road construction was called a national emergency and thus Odebrecht received $ 399,6 millions promptly.
After this anomalous resolution from Congress, Odebrecht received the money and without ever building the road enjoys absolute impunity in Guatemala up to this date being protected by Juan Francisco Sandoval, Ivan Velasquez and Thelma Aldana. To guarantee this impunity Juan Francisco Sandoval went to Brazil where he met with representatives of Odebrecht and signed agreement of collaboration in September of 2017. In that agreement Juan Francisco usurped State power which he didn’t have a right to; he excused Odebrecht from any penal responsibility in Guatemala for the committed fraud. This is unthinkable because Juan Francisco Sandoval is just a prosecutor from Public Ministry how can he forgive Odebrecht a multi-million dollar debt from the State of Guatemala!
Mandate of Juan Francisco Sandoval was issued by Mayra Veliz personally who back then was general secretary of Public Ministry.
According to that agreement Public Ministry excuses Odebrecht from any criminal responsibility for the theft of $ 400 million from Guatemalan State because of some supposed collaboration on Odebrecht´s part.
What special value might this collaboration have if in exchange Odebrecht receives absolute impunity?
Let’s remember that by this time Odebrecht was already collaborating with justice systems of 3 countries meanwhile paying millions of dollars in fines for acts of corruption. Only to US, Brasil and Switzerland Odebrecht paid $ 3´500 millions, to Peru – $ 300 million, to Columbia – $ 250 million, to Panama – $ 220 million, to Dominican Republic – $ 184 million.
According to agreement which Juan Francisco Sandoval signed with Odebrecht the company had to pay only a small fine which was evaluated from the declared amount of bribes – $ 17 million which in no way compares with $ 400 million stolen from Guatemalan State.
When a journalist from newspaper Relato GT asked Juan Francisco Sandoval via whatsapp why he didn´t insist on repayment of the debt as all other countries did; Juan Francisco replied that he himself didn´t investigate yet if there was any fraud committed and that either way it´s General Prosecutor of the Nation (PGN) who is responsible.
WhatsApp conversation between Juan Francisco Sandoval and journalist from newspaper Relato GT (translation is not done literally but according to the context because there are many typical Guatemalan phrases which can´t be translated literally).
Journalist – Ok, thank you very much Mr Prosecutor
Sandoval – If the contract and its amplification were wrong… it didn´t function… there were 3 years for that
Sandoval – And everyone wants to get mentioned in this successful investigation of Public Ministry without doing anything.
Sandoval – If General Prosecutor of Nation (PGN) didn´t agree with the approved resolution he should have presented an appellation.
Sandoval – And he didn´t do it either.
Sandoval – And anyway, it is still under investigation if the contract was fraudulent or not.
Sandoval – In this first phase only bribery was discovered.
Without a doubt we can conclude that representatives of Public Ministry: Thelma Aldana, Mayra Veliz, Juan Francisco Sandoval and chief of CICIG – Ivan Velasquez – cover up all those responsible for Odebrecht fraud. Meanwhile other countries not only investigated everyone who had anything to do with Odebrecht, but already charged, judged them and received multi-million dollar compensations.
Probably this story could have continue on in Guatemala but happened something that no one expected. On 22nd of January Manuel Baldizon gave himself up to US Justice. For some reason this really altered Thelma Aldana and Ivan Velasquez because the next day they organised extensive searches in Baldizón´s properties in Guatemala. Then they organised a press conference where they announced that his political party Lider received $ 900´000 in August of 2015. Then Velasquez and Aldana announced that they are investigating Odebrecht case and that Baldizon is responsible for it. That seemed unlikely since the fraud itself was committed 3 years earlier. As part of this smoke screen Aldana and Velasquez also captured some people of low profile and equally declared them responsible for the fraud. Neither of them could explain why during 6 years not a single governmental official was investigated nor why they didn’t capture anyone directly related to the fraud despite having all the testimonies against the responsible ones. It all reminded a badly thrown together play to avoid suspicions from US Justice Department.
When Thelma Aldana was asked why she didn´t investigate deputies who supposedly received bribes to vote in favour of payment to Odebrecht; she answered that the investigation is only beginning. This sounds strange since 6 years have passed from 2012 already.
Today, in 2020, we know that Odebrecht case in Guatemala had no advancements since that press conference. All this time the case remains in hands of judges Erika Aifan and Yassmin Barrios who were appointed to it by Aldana and Velasquez. As is common practice of extinct CICIG they sentenced scapegoats but didn´t touch a single governmental official who participated in Odebrecht fraud. 5 thousand million Quetzales were stolen from Guatemala and yet it´s the only country who didn´t receive any compensation. We doubt that this impunity was given to Odebrecht for free.
Recently we received important testimonies explaining why Odebrecht was given impunity. In Guatemala the road had to be built together with local company Sigma which had to construct the other 100.6 km. The finances approved by Congress were to be divided between two companies: $ 400 millions to Odebrecht and $ 280 millions to Sigma. Neither company honoured the contract but both received the money. Odebrecht was discovered and investigated by US and Brazil but no one touched Sigma. Why? The scheme was really quite clever. To give finances to Sigma Congress had to honour each step of the law just like with Odebrecht. In 2012 erupted a huge scandal about each deputy receiving 250´000 Quetzales to approve financing of Odebrecht. Interestingly, on 27th of May 2014 the deputies passed a law of national emergency which approved $ 280 million for Sigma.
In the first 5 months of that year the Congress hardly had 80 deputies necessary to open the session but suddenly it was changed in the extraordinary session of 27th of May. That day 152 out of 158 deputies assisted to approve Law Monsanto (which was later annulled) but in the middle of the session, deputies Orlando Blanco (from political party UNE), Hugo Moran (from political party PAN) and Juan Jose Porras (back then from political party PP and now from VIVA) presented a motion of approval of debt from BCIE Bank for $ 280 million to finance the road which was meant to be built by Sigma. This motion was approved with 147 votes in 30 minutes without a single objection.
The debt had a special clause. In resolution DI 91/2013 of BCIE Bank it was established that Sigma Constructores company is in charge of continuing construction of road CA-2 Oriente and the section which connects Escuintla with the city border of Pedro de Alvarado.
By June 2016 Sigma had to complete the road of 100 km. Just like Odebrecht the company abandoned the project after receiving almost the full amount of money.
Igor: I spoke with an important witness who personally participated in these events and here is transcript of our conversation.
- Igor Bitkov – Why almost all the deputies assisted the assembly that day and voted in unanimity for granting of debt to Sigma without honouring all steps of the law?
- Witness – That´s simple. Thelma Aldana called leaders of political parties and invited them to come to office in zone 15 which is office of Sigma. Once you are there, the door is opened to you, you enter the parking lot and see a skinny person of small height in boots who presented himself as Mynor Palacios and together with his brother they welcomed you and told you: “They are waiting for you over there”. There was a receptionist and she took you to a room with a round table, not very big one, for about 6 people; to the left there was another room and a bar. The surprise was is that there was Kitty (nickname of Thelma Aldana) with her BBM (Blackberry Phone) together with OPM (ex-president of Guatemala Otto Perez Molina) and Sinibaldi. So she told you: “For the good of Guatemala, to avoid problems, you know that I´m here to serve Public Ministry and Palacios are my friends. I trust them to support this debt”.
- Igor Bitkov – Unbelievable! Thelma Aldana was in that meeting?!
- Witness – She was at the head of it. OPM (Otto Perez Molina) and Palacios brothers only nodded their heads. That´s why the absolute majority voted in favour… Look who voted, even Nineth.
- Igor Bitkov – Did she had any other business with those brothers (Palacios)?
- Witness – Always. They are from East.
This testimony explains a lot. Now we know why Thelma Aldana, Juan Francisco Sandoval and Ivan Velasquez organised all this circus. They had to cover up Odebrecht and Sigma because Thelma Aldana was the direct accomplice of this enormous fraud which stole $ 680 millions from Guatemala. Like always they found scapegoats who didn’t know anything and left in absolute impunity the responsible ones sharing the money with Thelma Aldana. It’s exactly the same scheme that they used in Migration case where they sentenced innocent people and covered up transnational crime ring, giving impunity to its members such as Mayra Veliz and Raul Morales. Another curious coincidence is that they even used the same judges for both dirty operations: Erika Aifan and Yassmin Barrios.
The witness who shared this information is not alone, we had other witnesses who are ready to declare in court in front of a judge about the crimes described in this article. There are also audio recordings and documents confirming their testimonies.
In case of Odebrecht – Sigma, Thelma Aldana was the protagonist, intellectual author of the crime and the one who later covered it up using the exact same scheme as in Migration case covering up Mayra Veliz. In both cases we are talking about multi million dollar deals which happen in its own underground criminal net. Where are the results of supposed fight against corruption that Ivan Velasquez and Thelma Aldana were proclaiming about? The answer is simple: there are no results because there was no fight against corruption; rather there was fight to cover up corruption. Thelma Aldana went as far as trying to run for presidency and this explains why she imprisoned her political rivals and whose trial were never concluded. Guatemala and the world must know of this injustice so as not to repeat same mistakes.