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By Julia Symmes Cobb
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 to 75 percent of its participation in the Navelena consortium, said Cormagdalena, the government agency overseeing the project.
“This is just the entrance of a new player; it does not mean any change to the value or the timeline of the contract,” Cormagdalena head Luis Alvaro Mendoza told Reuters.
Three multinational firms have expressed interest in taking over Odebrecht’s stake, Mendoza said, but their names will be 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.
Odebrecht has until June 11, the date major construction works are set to start, to find a substitute, Mendoza said. Otherwise the firm will incur fines for failure to uphold its contract.
Mendoza said he is confident the project will go forward without scheduling delays.
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 in statement earlier on Thursday.
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.
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.
A representative from Odebrecht declined to comment, citing confidentiality requirements.
$1 = 2,956.82 Colombian pesos Additional reporting by Nelson Bocanegra; Editing by Bill Rigby and Cynthia Osterman