United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet is denying accusations by a former businessman ensnared in Latin America's biggest corruption scandal that her 2013 presidential campaign in Chile illegally took money from the Brazilian company OAS.
Bachelet told Chile's 24 Horas TV channel late Monday from Geneva that she "never had any link with OAS or any other company."
The Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo reported this week that Leo Pinheiro of OAS told Brazilian authorities as part of a plea bargain that the company gave US$140,000 to Bachelet's campaign to make sure an international consortium kept a contract to build a bridge to the Chilean island of Chiloe.
He said OAS followed orders from Brazil's then president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who is now imprisoned. Lula was convicted in a corruption case that stems from a nationwide investigation that has ensnared many of Brazil's top businessmen and politicians.
OAS executives were not immediately available to respond to a request for comments. Former OAS president Leo Pinheiro was released from prison Tuesday, after a judge recently approved his request to spend the rest of his sentence under house arrest.
The Lava Jato ("Car Wash") investigation has looked into billions of dollars in contracts with Brazilian oil-giant Petrobras and now affects almost all aspects of business and political life in South America's largest country.
Prosecutors say executives of major construction companies such as OAS, Odebrecht and Andrade Gutierrez effectively formed a cartel that decided which firms would be awarded Petrobras contracts and how over-priced each deal would be. The padded prices were used to pay off dozens of politicians and Petrobras executives, investigators say.
The dozens of top businessmen and politicians who have already been convicted or are being investigated is a who's who of Brazil's elite. The initial probe has mushroomed into related investigations in other nations because big Brazilian companies operated across Latin America and elsewhere in the world.
In a plea deal with US prosecutors, Odebrecht admitted to paying bribes in such countries as Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Argentina and the Dominican Republic.
The conservative government of Chilean President Sebastian Piñera declined to comment on the accusations against the center-left Bachelet. But some governing party lawmakers asked her to provide more details.
"OAS is an international company that focused on financing candidacies from the left in exchange for favors, or in other words, corruption," said lawmaker Antonio Coloma.
Far-right lawmaker José Antonio Kast called on Bachelet to quit her UN post and answer to Chilean authorities. He said that if the accusations against Bachelet are true, "it would be the greatest corruption scandal to hit a Chilean president."
Centre-left politicians called the accusations unfounded. Bachelet became Chile's first women president in 2006. After her term, she was named the first head of UN Women, the world body's new women's agency. She left the post to return to Chile and won the presidency again, serving in 2014-18.