Colombia Opens 30-Day Period to Pick Judge for Odebrecht Case

(Bloomberg) -- Legal efforts by the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht SA to get paid for work on a Colombian highway done before a bribery scandal halted the project have been delayed until Sept. 11 to replace a lead arbitration judge who died.

Colombia’s infrastructure agency, known as ANI, and the local unit of Odebrecht along with its partners were granted a 30-day extension on August 9 in their case for work on Ruta del Sol 2, according to people close to the decision. Jorge Arango Mejia, the lead conciliator of the three-member panel at the Center of Arbitration and Conciliation, died last month.

In legal filings reviewed by Bloomberg News, the office for Legal Affairs of the Presidency narrowed a list of potential candidates to lead the case from 10 to eight, based on an original list crafted by ANI. In a letter dated Aug. 2, the office did not name the potential candidates and requested time for the new government led by President Ivan Duque, sworn in Aug. 7, to review the case.

The panel granted a 45-day suspension in late June. The case has been with the center for three years because the parties haven’t been able to agree on the amount to be paid to the Odebrecht-led joint venture.

Odebrecht and its partners have been trying to recover their investment in the $1.3 billion highway; the contract was terminated by Colombia´s government in February 2017 after the Brazilian company admitted paying a bribe to obtain it.

The company’s 2026 bonds fell the most in more than a month to 28.71 cents on the dollar.

Henry Sanabria Santos, the lawyer representing ANI, confirmed the authenticity of the petition sent to the arbitration center to extend the date for choosing the lead judge but declined to offer additional details. Angel Castañeda, the lawyer for Ruta del Sol 2, declined to comment, as did Andres Florez Villegas, a lawyer representing the seven banks that funded the highway project.

Odebrecht partnered in 2010 with Bogota-based Corficolombiana, a subsidiary of Grupo Aval, Colombia’s biggest banking group controlled by Luis Carlos Sarmiento Angulo, to build a section of a 1,000-km (621-mile) road connecting the Bogota region with the Caribbean coast. A family-held construction company called Solarte Group also took a minority stake in the joint venture.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.