Colombia must pay $61 million to banks involved in shuttered Odebrecht project

BOGOTA, Aug 6 (Reuters) - The Colombian government must pay 211 billion pesos ($61 million) to banks involved in Odebrecht construction projects that were shuttered during a bribery probe, a Colombian arbitration tribunal said on Tuesday.

The ruling came after the Brazilian construction company sued the Andean country last year, alleging the nation illegally expropriated assets during the investigation.

Odebrecht acknowledged in a 2016 leniency deal that it had bribed officials in a dozen Latin American countries to secure public works contracts.

The massive graft scandal included projects in Colombia, where the company had been awarded a contract for the construction of a 528-kilometer (328-mile) highway in 2010, with an investment of more than $1 billion. Four years later it signed a contract for an additional parallel road.

The contracts were scrapped by the Colombian government when an investigation uncovered alleged bribes. According to the attorney general’s office, bribes paid by Odebrecht in Colombia amount to some $30 million.

The 211 billion-peso judgment was much less than the 2.7 trillion pesos ($780.4 million) Odebrecht had initially asked for. The construction firm won no funds in the judgment.

“They denied aspirations for 2.7 trillion pesos. It is a ruling in favor of the Colombian state,” government representative Ivan Dario Gomez told journalists.

The money will go to banks that were involved with the projects but not party to corruption, the arbitration tribunal of the Bogota chamber of commerce said.

The banks are Itau, Bancolombia, Davivienda and Grupo Aval’s Banco de Occidente, Banco de Bogota, Banco Popular and Banco AV Villas.

Odebrecht also had an $850 million contract in a consortium to make the Magdalena River more navigable. ($1 = 3,459.47 Colombian pesos) (Reporting by Carlos Vargas in Bogota Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb Editing by Matthew Lewis)