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It was colourful and loud yesterday on the streets of Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. In their tens of thousands people from all over the Caribbean nation mobilised for a march to end government corruption.
The Dominican Republic has been abuzz with public anger since Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht confessed in a New York court on December 22 last year to having paid officials in 12 Latin American countries in order to help secure lucrative contracts. The Dominican Republic, it has transpired, was Odebrecht’s number three bribery destination. Following years of suspicion, the company was finally compelled to come clean about the $92 million in bribes it paid to intermediaries and Dominican officials between 2001 and 2014.
The organisers of the ‘End to Impunity’ march, which passed the National Palace on its way through the capital, demanded all money given in bribes be returned, prosecution for the guilty, indictments against Odebrecht executives and for all of its contracts in the country to be cancelled.
Among the crowds were members of the National Committee to Combat Climate Change (NCCCC), continuing their long battle against the Punta Catalina coal plant, a hotly disputed project which is currently being constructed (behind schedule) by … Odebrecht.
Following last week’s latest letter from NCCCC, BankTrack, Friends of the Earth France and urgewald urging Deutsche Bank, ING, Santander, Société Générale and UniCredit to quit their Punta Catalina financing, yesterday the Santo Domingo-based group demanded “Cancellation of the European banks’ Punta Catalina loan” out on the streets.
Initial soundings, however, from one of the banks involved suggest that the banking consortium is in no hurry to pull out of Punta Catalina, in which they have already disbursed just over half of the total agreed financing of $632.5 million.
Thus far, there has been no confirmation of specific Odebrecht bribery deployed to secure the Punta Catalina contract, one of 17 contracts Odebrecht ‘secured’ across Dominican Republic since 2002. A hastily convened investigation commission set up specifically to probe the propriety of the Punta Catalina project has already been slammed by many as a circling of the wagons exercise, stuffed as it is by figures with close historical ties to Odebrecht itself and to the Punta Catalina project promoter CDEEE, the state-owned electric utility.
The calculation looming large over all these proceedings is quite how Odebrecht managed to land the Punta Catalina contract back in 2013 when its accepted bid of $2.04 billion was more than double the $900 million which a Chinese construction company bid in the construction contract tender (for a good, concise rundown of the murky affair – and how deep it may run – see here).
And the question for five of Europe’s top banks now is: how laid back about Odebrecht’s kickbacks do you plan to be? Dominicans want some answers.