Pope warns Latin America about corruption, mentions Odebrecht


LIMA (Reuters) – Pope Francis wrapped up his trip to Chile and Peru on Sunday by warning that Latin America was in a deep crisis from corruption, with politics in most countries “more sick than well.”

Speaking in improvised remarks to bishops, he mentioned the scandal involving construction company Odebrecht, which has admitted to paying billions in bribes, as an example of greed run amok across the continent of his birth.

While sitting beside embattled Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski on Friday, the pope said all parts of society needed to work to combat corruption.

On Sunday he spoke more broadly. “Politics is in crisis, very much in crisis in Latin America,” he said, while also mentioning tax havens and drug trafficking.

In a rare turn of phrase for a pope, he named a specific company. Francis said Brazil’s Odebrecht, which confessed in a 2016 plea deal to paying out billions in exchange for contracts across 10 Latin American countries, was actually only a small part of the problem.

In Peru alone, a former president has been detained for allegedly receiving bribes from Odebrecht.

Pope Francis prays in front of Peruvian Saints relics at the Cathedral San Juan Apostol y Evangelista in Lima, Peru, January 21, 2018. Osservatore Romano/Handout via REUTERS

Kuczynski was nearly impeached in December for not revealing that a company he used to run did business with Odebrecht. He denies wrongdoing.

Days after surviving an impeachment vote in Congress, Kuczynski pardoned former President Alberto Fujimori less than halfway through his 25-year sentence for corruption and human rights abuse.

This was widely seen as a political deal struck with Fujimori supporters in Congress to allow Kuczynski to stay in office.

Kuczynski, 79, cited medical reasons for granting Fujimori the pardon and has said it was fundamentally about forgiveness. He denies it was part of a backroom deal.

Revelations from the Odebrecht scandal have also roiled the region’s largest economy of Brazil for years, sending dozens of high-profile executives and lawmakers to jail.

The pope has spoken on corruption on previous trips to Latin America. In Paraguay in 2015 he said it was a “plague, a gangrene of society” and has since expanded the illness metaphor.

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