Dominican judge sends 6 to trial in giant Odebrecht scandal

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A judge in the Dominican Republic on Friday ordered a former Senate president, an ex-public works minister and four other people to stand trial in a bribery scandal involving Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht.

Judge Francisco Ortega Polanco sent ex-Senate leader Andres Bautista, former public works minister Victor Diaz Rua, businessman Angel Rondon and three others to trial in the corruption case, which has toppled former presidents and business and political leaders across Latin America and the Caribbean.

Of the seven suspects being investigated in the Dominican Republic, only former Senate president Jesus Vazquez was spared trial.

Prosecutors allege Bautista took bribes from Odebrecht for the Northwest Aqueduct Line expansion and the Palomino Hydroelectric Plant project. They say he introduced 1.8 billion Dominican pesos ($36 million at the current exchange rate) into the banking system in less than 15 years.

Diaz Rua and Rondon are accused of being major beneficiaries of the alleged corruption scheme.

All deny the charges against them. As he left the court, Bautista said the “judge didn’t refer to the evidence that we provided.”

Dominican Attorney General Jean Alain Rodriguez called the judge’s decision “transcendental.”

“In the past 20 years, this is the corruption case with the greatest magnitude to be investigated in the Dominican Republic because of the number of accused, the level of their influence of the same and the amounts of money involved,” said Rodriguez.

Odebrecht has acknowledged paying nearly $800 million to high-profile leaders across the region in exchange for lucrative public works contracts.