Odebrecht says dealings with Peru president were legitimate

LIMA (Reuters) - Brazilian builder Odebrecht [ODBES.UL] said Saturday that its recently-disclosed business ties to embattled Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski were not part of the corrupt deals it struck with politicians that it has acknowledged to prosecutors.

FILE PHOTO: Peru's President-elect Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (C), Vice-President Martin Vizcarra (R) and second Vice-President Mercedes Araoz (L) attend a ceremony in Lima, Peru, June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Janine Costa/File Photo

The assertion might strengthen Kuczynski’s bid to survive a vote to remove him from office on Thursday in the opposition-ruled Congress over allegations he took bribes from Odebrecht, which is at the center of Latin America’s biggest graft scandal.

Earlier this week, Odebrecht sent Congress a requested report detailing deposits totaling $4.8 million that it paid to two companies owned by Kuczynski or a close business associate of his for financial and advising services.

Kuczynski, who previously denied any links to the company, has resisted calls to resign over the transactions and said there was nothing improper about them.

Odebrecht denied accusations by an influential journalist with the newspaper La Republica that the disclosure was an attempt to overthrow Kuczynski in collusion with the right-wing opposition.

It was able to disclose the transactions because there was no sign they were part of any of its past criminal activities, which it can only discuss with public prosecutors, Odebrecht said.

“They were duly paid and officially accounted for,” Odebrecht said in a letter to La Republica that it made public on Twitter on Saturday.

“Odebrecht is obligated by law to send requested information to relevant authorities,” including an investigative committee in Congress, the company said.

Odebrecht has rocked Latin American politics with its public confession a year ago that it orchestrated sophisticated kickback schemes across a dozen countries for more than a decade - landing elites in jail from Colombia to the Dominican Republic.

Late on Friday, lawmakers passed a motion to start “presidential vacancy” procedures with enough votes to unseat Kuczynski in a vote it scheduled for Thursday.

The center-right president’s supporters cited Odebrecht’s letter to La Republica to argue that his only fault was misleading Peru about his connections to Odebrecht.

If Kuczynski is ousted by Congress, he would lose his presidential immunity from prosecution and First Vice President Martin Vizcarra would be authorized to replace him for the rest of his term ending in 2021.

Two former presidents in Peru, Ollanta Humala and Alejandro Toledo, have been ensnared in the Odebrecht probe over alleged payments they deny. Humala was jailed in July pending trial and authorities hope to extradite Toledo from the United States.

Reporting by Marco Aquino; Writing by Dave Sherwood and Mitra Taj; Editing by Caroline Stauffer and Alistair Bell