Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. human rights chief, has denied claims by a Brazilian businessman under investigation in Brazil’s massive Car Wash scandal that he paid $141,000 to cover debts incurred by her 2013 Chilean presidential campaign.
Leo Pinheiro is reported to have told prosecutors as part of a plea bargain that his engineering firm, OAS, paid the money at the suggestion of the former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Lula is serving a 12-year prison sentence for taking bribes in connection with the scandal, which involved payoffs and political kickbacks on contracts with oil company Petrobras and other state-run companies.
Two other Brazilian presidents have been implicated in the scandal, along with two Peruvian presidents.
On Monday, Brazil’s Folha de Sao Paolo newspaper cited messages between prosecutors working on Pinheiro’s case in a report that claimed he told them OAS paid the money to Bachelet’s campaign to ensure a consortium it was involved in retained a contract to build a bridge to the Chilean island of Chiloe.
On Tuesday, Bachelet, a socialist who served from 2006 to 2010 and again from 2014 to 2018 and is the current United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, denied the claims.
“My truth is the same as always, I have never had links with OAS,” she told Chilean TV station 24 Horas in Geneva.
She highlighted the fact that Pinheiro had failed to mention his claims to tell a Chilean prosecutor investigating the potential involvement of Chilean businesses or politicians in the cross-continental scandal.
She also pointed to the fact that the Chiloe bridge contract was awarded by the government of Chile’s current president, Sebastian Pinera.
Pinheiro was sentenced to 16 years in prison for his role in the scandal but released after three years in custody last weekend after his plea bargain was ratified by Brazil’s Supreme Court.
Chile’s chief prosecutor, Jorge Abbott, said in a statement on Monday that he would await formal confirmation of Pinheiro’s claims from Brazilian prosecutors before taking any action.
“We will continue with our investigation to determine the veracity of this financing and to be able to advance any corresponding criminal complaints,” he said.
“Whoever is ultimately implicated in this testimony, no one is above the law.”
Representatives for OAS, Lula and Pinheiro did not reply to requests for comment. Bachelet’s spokesman at the U.N., Rupert Colville, said she would not comment further on the issue.
“Obviously, as this concerns her political career in Chile, it is not an issue for OHCHR itself to comment on,” he said.