An American citizen is living under house arrest in Colombia and facing 30 years in prison. His crime? Trying to prevent a corrupt company from stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from Colombian taxpayers.
President Trump and members of Congress appear to be his only hope for freedom — and they must act soon. Time is running out.
Luis Andrade is an American success story. The 58-year-old is a New Orleans-born, Florida-raised son of Colombian parents. He earned an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and became a Senior Partner at McKinsey & Company. Andrade and his wife of 30 years, Teresa, raised three grown children before he decided to retire from his lucrative business consulting career to become a public servant in his parents’ home country.
In 2011, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos asked Andrade to create and serve as the head of the new National Infrastructure Agency. Andrade accepted the task and quickly revitalized the country’s transportation infrastructure.
Under Andrade, the National Infrastructure Agency issued more than $15 billion in contracts using a transparent bidding process that has become a model for other developing countries.
As he was cleaning up messes left by earlier infrastructure bureaucracies, Andrade was tipped off by World Bank officials that Odebrecht, a Brazilian construction company now linked to bribes and corrupt bidding practices in at least 12 countries, was trying to create a cartel to rig infrastructure bids in Colombia.
Andrade informed the Colombian government of potentially shady behavior by Odebrecht, and requested the contract be deemed null and void. He also worked to halt the payment of $250 million in improper cost overrun reimbursements requested by Odebrecht.
Unfortunately, Colombia was already on the hook for a $2 billion deal with Odebrecht and its Colombian partners to build and operate one of the country’s most important highways. The contract was signed in 2009 — two years before Andrade assumed his job at the National Infrastructure Agency.
The U.S. Department of Justice determined in December 2016 that Odebrecht received the highway contract after paying Colombian lawmakers and bureaucrats millions in bribes — part of more than $1 billion in bribes Odebrecht admitted to throughout Latin America. The company’s former CEO, Marcelo Odebrecht, received a 19-year prison sentence for personally overseeing $30 million in illegal payments to Brazilian officials.
Andrade responded to the Justice Department’s findings by asking Colombia’s arbitration tribunal to invalidate Odebrecht’s highway contract and working to reduce the payout the company received for terminating the agreement. This commonsense response to Odebrecht’s ill-gotten gains infuriated Colombia’s Attorney General Nestor Humberto Martinez.
Before serving as the country’s top law enforcement officer, Martinez worked as external counsel for Odebrecht’s local partner — Grupo AVAL — for two decades. Among his duties was rendering a favorable legal opinion of the bribery-plagued contract in question.
Rather than allowing Andrade to invalidate the corrupt contract he helped to draft and harm his corrupt former employer in the process, Attorney General Martinez chose to silence Andrade by arresting him and sentencing him to home detention on bogus charges.
Martinez alleges Andrade’s decisions were somehow influenced by officials who took bribes from Odebrecht — a ludicrous claim since Andrade tirelessly fought against the company’s corrupt behavior and worked to prevent taxpayers’ money from ending up in the pockets of Odebrecht and its affiliates.
Further, the highway contract between Odebrecht and the Colombian government was signed two years before Andrade agreed to lead the National Infrastructure Agency. Still, he faces up to 30 years in prison for a crime he obviously did not commit.
To make matters even more outrageous, all of the individuals who offered or received bribes as part of the Odebrecht scandal are currently free while Andrade is facing jail time.
Andrade remains confined in house arrest on trumped up charges brought on by an attorney general hoping to protect the shady characters who paid him handsomely over the last 20 years. But there is hope for Andrade and for the people of Colombia who deserve a fair and impartial justice system.
This year, Congress gave the Colombian government more than $391 million in foreign aid — including tens of millions of dollars aimed directly at improving legal protections and strengthening human rights. President Trump and Members of Congress have the opportunity, and the obligation, to encourage the Colombian government to stop allowing the country’s unethical attorney general to use an honest American citizen as a scapegoat to misdirect blame away from his friends.
Congress should stop all foreign assistance payments to Colombia immediately and not give the country another cent until the bogus charges against American citizen Luis Andrade are dismissed.
Drew Johnson Drew Johnson is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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