Witnesses describe multi-million bribes for flagship project

1,646Views 3Comments Posted 19/08/2020

Former executives of the  Spanish  FCC company have pulled back the curtains on the multi-million dollar kickbacks in the construction of the Hospital City a flagship project of former president Ricardo Martinelli which his sycophants had planned to name after him.

It might have proved an apt title as the former FCC bosses have revealed to prosecutors in Spain that the work was awarded in their favor because they had to agree to the payment of a bribe of 9% of the gross cost of the work, which included the financing of its $587.5 million construction. This involved the distribution of almost $53 million.

As the banks were reluctant to offer such high loans to carry out the work, "intermediaries" would have negotiated, according to the Spanish informers, a reduction in the financing period, which made it possible to continue with the work.

Eusebio del Barrio former FCC regional director–  also revealed that Riccardo Francolini appeared as the intermediary in the collection of bribes, “which consisted of paying 9% of the award amount and an additional commission that arose after $12 million for the approval of the change in the payment conditions of the project ”.

The new “commission” would have raised the amount of the bribe to more than $65 million. Del Barrio explained that, on his departure from FCC, in mid-August 2013, $15 million had already been paid.

Under the carpet
The case, which has been heard in the Panamanian courts, virtually came to an end in October 2019, when the Second Superior Court confirmed a decision of the Eighth Criminal Court that definitively dismissed the defendants, accused of embezzlement in the project, known today as the City of Health reports La Prensa.

The Public Ministry presented the only recourse that remained to avoid the definitive closure of the case: that of cassation before the Supreme Court, which has not yet been resolved.

An  August 2012 meeting, in the office of  Martinelli, in the Presidential Palaces, in which the then CEO of FCC, Avelino Acero, and the regional director of the company, Eugenio del Barrio, participated, ended in another meeting outside the ruler's office. Martinelli had introduced them to the new “intermediary,”  Francolini– who would replace the Minister of Public Works, Federico José Suárez, in the delicate matter of the “commissions” that the company had to pay for state works awarded in his favor.

Del Barrio, who reviewed the brief meeting with Martinelli in the Presidency in a statement to prosecutors in Spain, described Francolini as a subject who "became a sort of frontman for the President." But Francolini proved to be more than that. He was diligent, because, when he left the President's office, he immediately took an interest "in detail" in all the projects that Suárez managed, recalled del Barrio.

By then, FCC had  other  contracts bringing the total to r almost $1,1 billion, and for which FCC had to pay important "commissions", following instructions from the Francolini. said del Barrio.

Del Barrio described, the role of Francolini in the Hospital City  project and, , that of Martínez Acha & Asociados in that same project, the most expensive that FCC handled individually, awarded in 2012 for $587.5 million, work that this year was eight years old, unfinished and rising in price.

According to del Barrio, the bid of the Hospital City) was legitimately won by FCC, thanks to a competitive offer,  he  warned - its award "was conditional on the acceptance of a 9% commission." It was the lawyer Mauricio Cort – said del Barrio - who reminded them of the payment of 9% commission.

Cort was a local attorney, hired by the FCC at the suggestion of Suárez. The lawyer collected and received bribes in bank accounts of an Uruguayan company called Arados del Plata, del Barrio said. Cort justified the money that entered these accounts as payment of fees for legal services to FCC,

In addition to being diligent, Francolini was hospitable. Apart from being the intermediary of the hospital business del Barrio said that there were meetings with Francolini at his home in Costa del Este. They were meetings between him and del Barrio, with the occasional company of Julio Casla - now the former director of FCC for Central America - who also agreed to sentence agreements with the Public Ministry.

Del Barrio was insistent that Francolini implied that the then director of the CSS, Guillermo Sáez Llorens “was involved in the change [of the term] of financing the contract and implied that those $4 million or part of that commission they were going for him, but I don't know if it really was for him, "he said.

Sáez Llorens told La Prensa that “it is totally false that I have asked or have been given a payment to change the financing of the work. Mr. Francolini ... never had anything to do with the CSS or with the Ciudad Hospitalaria project ”.

FCC's admission of having paid multi-millions in bribes has forced the company to enter into negotiations with the Public Ministry in order to return those funds. To this end, the FCC proposed something similar to barter.

Negotiations were suspended after the declaration of the pandemic. president, Cortizo, announced a direct negotiation with FCC: "We prefer as a country to quickly reach an agreement with FCC," he said.