BOGOTA, May 12 (Reuters) - Construction firm Odebrecht will transfer to another company much of its $847.5 million majority stake in a project to make Colombia’s Magdalena river navigable, as it faces corruption allegations in Brazil, Colombian officials said on Thursday.
Odebrecht, Latin America’s largest engineering conglomerate, will relinquish 50 percent to 75 percent of its participation in the Navelena consortium, a spokesperson for Cormagdalena, the government agency overseeing the project, told Reuters.
Three firms have expressed interest in taking over Odebrecht’s stake, the agency said, but their names were being kept confidential.
The project contract allows Brazil-based Odebrecht to pass the majority of its 87 percent stake in Navelena to another firm in extraordinary circumstances, the spokesperson said.
Navelena is set to fund most of the project and profit from toll charges for seven years after its upgrade of the waterway.
“Odebrecht has decided to relinquish its majority share participation in Navelena SAS, in an effort to ensure the financial solvency and guarantee the credibility of the private-public partnership, which has been affected by the reputation problems of the Brazilian firm,” Cormagdalena said.
Odebrecht has pledged to collaborate with an investigation by Brazilian prosecutors after authorities uncovered an office at the group dedicated to paying bribes on work for Brazil state firms, World Cup soccer stadiums and Olympic legacy projects.
Major construction on the Magdalena project is set to begin on June 11 and Cormagdalena hopes to have found another firm to participate by then, the spokesperson said.
The river project, valued at 2.5 trillion Colombian pesos, is set to increase cargo transport on the river to some 10 million tonnes by 2029, in a bid to reduce freight costs and aid exports by commodities producers and agricultural companies.
Cormagdalena head Luis Alvaro Mendoza was set to hold a press conference later on Thursday.
A representative from Odebrecht declined to comment, citing confidentiality requirements.
$1 = 2,956.82 Colombian pesos Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Bill Rigby