Brazil construction giant admits bribery

A logo of Brazilian construction company Odebrecht at the Olympic and Paralympic Village in Rio de Janeiro, BrazilImage copyright

One of Brazil’s biggest construction companies, Odebrecht, has admitted in a US court to paying bribes to officials to secure contracts.

The company and Brazilian petrochemical firm, Braskem, have agreed to pay at least $3.5bn to the authorities in the US, Brazil and Switzerland.

The US Justice Department said it was the largest foreign bribery case yet.

Odebrecht will pay fines of $2.6bn and Braskem will pay $957m, for bribing government officials across the globe.

Odebrecht is also at the centre of the corruption scandal involving Brazil’s state-run oil company, Petrobras.

Its executives have signed a deal to cooperate with the investigation – known as Operation Car Wash – naming more than two hundred politicians allegedly involved in the kickback scheme.

‘Department of bribery’

“These resolutions are the result of an extraordinary multinational effort to identify, investigate and prosecute a highly complex and long-lasting corruption scheme that resulted in the payment by the defendant companies of close to a billion dollars in bribes to officials at all levels of government in many countries,” said US attorney Robert Capers.

“In an attempt to conceal their crimes, the defendants used the global financial system – including the banking system in the United States – to disguise the source and disbursement of the bribe payments by passing funds through a series of shell companies,” he added.

Deputy assistant attorney general, Sung-Hee Suh, said: “Odebrecht and Braskem used a hidden but fully functioning Odebrecht business unit – a ‘Department of Bribery,’ so to speak – that systematically paid hundreds of millions of dollars to corrupt government officials in countries on three continents.”

The US authorities explained that starting in 2001, and lasting for more than a decade, Odebrecht paid $788m in bribes to government officials, their agents and to political parties in several countries to win business orders.

The US Department of Justice said: “The criminal conduct was directed by the highest levels of the company, with the bribes paid through a complex network of shell companies, off-book transactions and off-shore bank accounts.”

Braskem took part in the scheme and between 2006 and 2014, and paid about $250m into Odebrecht’s bribery system, US authorities said.

The money was used to bribe politicians and their parties in Brazil as well as to officials of Petrobras.

The result, said the US Justice Department, was that Braskem obtained cheap deals when buying Petrobras materials, obtained contracts with Petrobras, and also gained sweetheart tax deals in Brazil.

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