"Lula Wanted Odebrect to Do a Project in Cuba", Marcelo Odebrecht said

The businessman said he thought it would be a first a road, but company found it would be better to invest in a port

São Paulo

Businessman Marcelo Odebrecht, 51, arranges a framed photo on the wall of the place he chose to have himself photographed. The frame features a picture of a large root found by his grandfather and founder of Odebrecht—Norberto—on a beach in southern Bahia in the 1970s. The root is on a pedestal at the company's headquarters in Salvador.

"A root that overcomes its fragility, in addition to the adversity of the environment where the fall falls, creates a resilience that everyone needs to have, even more now," he said.

Marcelo said the photo should be an inspiration to the people of the company. So, he decided to hang it in this location, a kind of living room in his home in the state capital.

Located in a gated community, it is the last house on the street. One room has high ceilings, and sliding glass doors lead to a lap-shaped pool.

Marcelo Odebrecht (Foto: Eduardo Knapp/Folhapress, MERCADO). - Folhapress

In a separate area with a driveway, the businessman maintains a simple office with a wooden table and chairs and a sofa.

The Bahian group was founded in 1944, has revenues of R$ 132 billion (US$ 32 billion), and employs 193 million people. Since the Car Wash operation, however, the company has been struggling and is currently undergoing one of the largest bankruptcies in the country's history, with debts reaching R$ 98.5 billion (US$ 23 billion).

Marcelo decided to give Folha his first interview since he went to prison on June 19, 2015. He declined to talk about Car Wash and political issues but gave details of behind-the-scenes deals between political and economic interest groups. He confirmed, for example, that Odebrecht included Venezuela in Mercosur for commercial interest.

The businessman struck a deal and left prison in December 2017 under a closed regime. In December this year, he will continue on a semi-open regime but will still use an anklet.

The interview covered the group's Latin expansion and topics related to the financing of services exports by BNDES (National Bank for Economic and Social Development). He declared that there is no BNDES black box, but the company did work in Cuba at the request of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

"Our relationship with BNDES has always been, and I hope it will continue to be, a lot of partnership, transparency, and fairness. And I can very safely declare that I am unaware of any wrongdoing in our relationship with BNDES," he says.

Lula's defense team stated that the petista never committed an illegal act.

Translated by Kiratiana Freelon

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