July 12, 2017 / 7:15 PM / a month ago

Venezuela to indict relatives of ex-minister over Odebrecht bribe scheme

The corporate logo of Odebrecht is seen inside of one of its offices in Mexico City, Mexico May 4, 2017.Carlos Jasso

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's state prosecutor's office said on Wednesday it would charge two people linked to a former transportation minister for involvement in bribery schemes associated with the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht SA.

Maria Baptista and Elita Zacarias "are linked to the ex-Minister Haiman El Troudi and must appear July 27," the state prosecutor's office said on Twitter, without providing further details.

El Troudi later said that his relatives, whom local media have reported are his wife and mother-in-law, had nothing to do with the case.

"To get to me, Mrs. Prosecutor, my immunity is no obstacle and my family shouldn't be the way forward," he tweeted. "As this case is chiefly political, know that I will be the one to present myself to the prosecutor's office, with my conscience clear and my head high."

Reuters was unable to obtain comments from Baptista and Zacarias.

Odebrecht, the largest engineering and construction company in Latin America, acknowledged in 2016 that it paid some $98 million dollars in bribes over several years to obtain contracts in Venezuela.

Earlier this year, the prosecutors sought the arrest of Odebrecht Venezuela chief Euzenando Azevedo, but he has not yet been captured and is presumed to have already left the country.

President Nicolas Maduro has publicly said that those responsible for the embezzlement must be punished.

But the investigation has moved particularly slowly through the justice system, in contrast to other countries in the region where similar bribery took place.

Odebrecht has left at least 23 multi-million dollar projects unfinished or stalled in Venezuela, according to company and government documents, interviews with over two dozen workers, and site visits.

Still, a political showdown between the government and the prosecutor might be hastening investigations.

Prosecutor Luisa Ortega is clashing with the leftist government, and her office appears to have sped up accusations of high-profile Socialist Party officials, security officials, and oil executives in the last month.

But the pro-government Supreme Court later on Wednesday issued a decision curtailing the prosecutor's powers to indict people. Ortega has also said she expects to be fired after accusing Maduro's government of human rights violations and erosion of democracy. She has said she would resist such a move.

Reporting by Diego Ore; Additional reporting by Alexandra Ulmer; Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Lisa Shumaker

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