LIMA (Reuters) - Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski acknowledged that he worked as a financial adviser for an irrigation project owned by the Brazilian builder Odebrecht [ODBES.UL] on Saturday, contradicting his previous denials of having any links to the company.
Odebrecht is at the center of Latin America’s biggest graft scandal and has admitted to paying about $30 million in bribes to secure contracts in Peru over a decade.
Kuczynski worked in the Cabinet of former President Alejandro Toledo, who prosecutors say took a $20 million bribe from Odebrecht during his 2001-2006 term. However, Kuczynski has not been named as a suspect in the far-reaching graft probe by the attorney general’s office.
In a televised interview with local broadcaster RPP, Kuczynski denied being a partner in an investment fund that allegedly had links to Odebrecht. However, he said he had worked as a financial adviser for several companies that needed to raise funds for big projects, including an Odebrecht firm.
“They use bankers,” said Kuczynski, a 79-year-old former Wall Street banker elected president in 2016. “I’ve been a banker, in New York, for a very prestigious bank. I’ve been one of the founders of what’s called project financing. So sometimes, I was hired. For H2Olmos, an irrigation project.”
Odebrecht owns H2Olmos SA, which was formed in 2009 to build and operate one of its landmark projects in Peru - carving a 20-kilometer (12-mile) tunnel through the Andes to transport water to irrigate agricultural fields in the desert.
Kuczynski’s comments could provide more ammunition for the opposition-controlled Congress as it targets him in its probe into Odebrecht’s links to politicians.
Kuczynski had previously denied reports in local media that Odebrecht hired him as an adviser a decade ago to mend ties with him after he opposed highway contracts awarded to the company in Toledo’s government.
Kuczynski did not provide additional details about his work for H2Olmos, and his office did not respond to requests for comment. However, he stressed in the interview that the advising work was done when he was a private citizen and denied favoring any company while in public office.
Odebrecht reached a deal to sell H2Olmos to Brookfield Infrastructure Partners LP and Suez SA a year ago. However, the sale has not closed.
While the attorney general’s office reopened a preliminary probe related to Odebrecht and Kuczynski a year ago, it has not accused Kuczynski of wrongdoing.
Reporting by Mitra Taj; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn