Brazil's Odebrecht gave illegal funds to Temer campaign: report

Marcelo Odebrecht (R), the head of Latin America's largest engineering and construction company Odebrecht SA, and Otavio Marques Azevedo (L), CEO of Brazil's second largest builder Andrade Gutierrez, are escorted by federal police officers as they leave the Institute of Forensic Science in Curitiba, Brazil, June 20, 2015. REUTERS/Rodolfo Burher

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Jailed Brazilian construction magnate Marcelo Odebrecht has told prosecutors he contributed illegally to the election campaign of now-interim President Michel Temer in 2014, Veja newsweekly reported on Saturday.

Odebrecht, whose family owns Latin America’s largest engineering and construction group, was sentenced in March to 19 years in jail for bribery, money laundering and organized crime in the Petrobras kickback scandal.

In a plea bargain statement seen by Veja, Odebrecht said Temer asked him for campaign funds in 2014 when he was vice president and seeking re-election on the ticket of now-suspended President Dilma Rousseff.

Odebrecht said he contributed 6 million reais ($1.8 million) from an office in his company that handled secret payments, according to Veja.

A spokesman for Temer, who took over from Rousseff when she was suspended in May pending an impeachment trial, confirmed the meeting had taken place in 2014 during which Temer and his aide, Eliseu Padilha, asked Odebrecht for a campaign contribution.

“But it was all legal,” spokesman Marcio de Freitas told Reuters. He said the donated money had been duly registered with Brazil’s electoral authorities, but gave no details.

If Odebrecht’s allegation is true and accepted as legal testimony in court, it could complicate Temer’s efforts to secure his presidency by turning undecided senators against the conviction of Rousseff in her impeachment trial. The Senate is due to decide by the end of the month on whether to remove Rousseff permanently from office for breaking budget laws.

The scandal at Petroleo Brasileiro SA, as the oil company is formally called, led to the arrest of executives of Brazil’s top construction firms and the investigation of dozens of politicians for allegedly receiving graft money. Odebrecht’s plea bargain is expected to implicate many of them.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Paul Simao