Just how far did the bribery tentacles of Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht reach? The company has admitted paying $788 million in bribes in at least a dozen countries, mostly in Latin America, while investigations are underway in four more, according to an in-depth report this week by the British Broadcasting Corp.
And the Brazilian newspaper O Globo has reported that 29 countries, including the U.S., Sweden, France and the U.K., have asked Brazil for help with their own Odebrecht probes. Brazil asked a total of 38 countries to help in its own investigation. Odebrecht’s attorneys at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan could not immediately be reached for comment.
The U.S. Department of Justice, Brazil and Switzerland jointly prosecuted the company, which pleaded guilty last December to violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. At sentencing in April, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York imposed a $3.5 billion fine, the largest global fine ever in an FCPA case. And the investigations continue into individuals involved in the bribery schemes, while allegations have touched several current and former Latin American politicians, including Brazilian President Michel Temer, his foreign minister and his chief of staff.
Odebrecht terminated 51 employees, many of them high-ranking executives, according to the statement of facts attached to its plea agreement. One of those employees was CEO Marcelo Odebrecht, who was sentenced to 19 years in prison.
The company has since hired a full-time chief compliance officer, begun implementing a compliance program and added an independent compliance monitor for three years, as required under the terms of its plea deal.
The BBC report, based on documents from the DOJ and Brazil as well as various news reports from other countries, named the countries and the dollar amount of bribes that were accepted in those nations. The BBC said recipients in Brazil pocketed the most money, with $349 million, followed by Venezuela with $98 million and the Dominican Republic with $92 million.
Other countries where Odebrecht has admitted making bribes, listed from highest total payout to lowest, were Panama ($59 million), Angola, Argentina, Ecuador, Peru, Guatemala, Colombia, Mexico and Mozambique ($1 million). Other countries where the BBC said investigations continue are Antigua, El Salvador, Chile and Portugal.
A noteworthy part of the report, based on the U.S. plea deal and statement of facts, involved how Odebrecht ran its bribe operation. The DOJ said the company created, in effect, a department of bribery, which it called its Division of Structured Operations.
The company admitted in the plea deal that the division set up offshore shell companies and sometimes laundered the money through as many as four banks before it reached recipients. At one point, the division acquired its own bank branch in Antigua so it could set up accounts for politicians and funnel money directly into them.
The division had its own private computer systems, one for financial records and one for communicating secretly with co-conspirators through secure emails and instant messaging by using code names.
The BBC report added, “They gave their recipients flippant code names: Dracula, Sauerkraut, Decrepit, Totally Ugly. One politician, whose wife was 40 years younger than him, got the code name Viagra.”
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