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Colombia ex-candidate Zuluaga violated law with funds from Odebrecht -AG

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BOGOTA (Reuters) – Former Colombia presidential candidate and minister Oscar Ivan Zuluaga violated the law when he received money from disgraced Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht, the Colombian attorney general’s office said on Tuesday.

Odebrecht and its parent company agreed in 2016 to pay $3.5 billion to settle bribery-related charges brought by U.S., Brazilian and Swiss regulators. Charges related to the company have been brought against officials across Latin America, including in Colombia.

“Given the abundant probative material obtained, an indictment hearing against ex-presidential candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga Escobar … is requested,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement, adding it plans to charge him with fraud and illicit enrichment.

It was not immediately possible to obtain comment from Zuluaga or Odebrecht.

In 2014, Zuluaga met on several occasions with the former head of Odebrecht in Colombia, Eleuberto Antonio Martorelli, the prosecutor said.

The two men apparently agreed the Brazilian company would pay for the services of a campaign publicist and Odebrecht transferred $1.61 million to the publicist’s account in Panama, the statement said, violating a law that prohibits foreign financing of political parties.

“The evidence shows Oscar Ivan Zuluaga knew about the illegal contribution and presented accounting with an omission to the National Electoral Council … hiding information about the economic collaboration of Odebrecht,” the prosecutor’s office said.

The alleged lies to the council led it to close an investigation into Zuluaga, the statement added.

Zuluaga’s son David Zuluaga will also be charged with fraud, the prosecutor said.

The office also requested a hearing to lay charges against former transport minister Cecilia Elvira Alvarez, for alleged fraud in a construction deal also involving Odebrecht.

(Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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