Colombia should levy maximum fines on corrupt companies -president

BOGOTA, Dec 3 (Reuters) - Colombia’s President Ivan Duque on Monday asked the nation’s trade and industry regulator to levy the maximum fine on any company found to be involved in taking or paying bribes.

Without naming a specific company, Duque said he would not tolerate corruption in Colombia. The maximum fine levied by the regulator is 78 billion pesos ($24 million), according to the regulator.

Colombia has been rattled in recent years by a corruption scandal that put Brazil’s Odebrecht at the center of Latin America’s biggest graft case, when the construction firm acknowledged in 2016 that it bribed officials in a dozen countries.

“A company that corrupts an official to win a contract is not only engaging in a serious criminal offense, but in a serious breach of the right to competition, which merits the highest possible pecuniary sanctions to be applied in our country,” Duque said at a ceremony in Bogota.

The government last month asked the companies regulator to ban Odebrecht from state contracts for 20 years after it acknowledged paying bribes.

Odebrecht declined to comment on Monday.

According to the attorney general’s office, Odebrecht’s bribes in Colombia totaled about $30 million.

Fourteen people involved in the corruption scandal have been jailed in Colombia, including an ex-senator and a former transport minister.

Odebrecht, in partnership with a local company, was in charge of construction of a 528-kilometer stretch of a highway to the Caribbean coast, a contract of more than $1 billion. (Reporting by Helen Murphy and Luis Jaime Acosta; Editing by Dan Grebler)