Brazil’s largest construction firm, Odebrecht, has agreed to hand over an eye-watering US$2.6 billion in fines, after admitting paying $788 million in bribes to more than 200 politicians in 12 different countries.
The US Department of Justice (DoJ) said Odebrecht’s criminal activities amounted to a “massive and unparalleled bribery and bid-rigging scheme”.
Brazilian petrochemicals firm Braskem was found to be similarly culpable by investigators and will pay $957 million for its part in bribery on a global scale.
Braskem is jointly owned by Odebrecht and petrochemicals firm, Petrobras, which is also the subject of a long-running investigation in Brazil, known as Operation Car Wash.
The US 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."
Citing criminal activities by Odebrecht, dating as far back as 2001, the DoJ said the operation 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."
One example of the endemic nature of Odebrecht’s criminal behaviour came with the revelation that Odebrecht bought its own bank in Antigua, to ensure a continuation of its clandestine financial transactions.
An excerpt of the plea bargain, signed by Odebrecht executives, reads, “By virtue of this acquisition, other members of the conspiracy, including senior politicians from multiple countries receiving bribe payments, could open bank accounts and receive transfers without the risk of attracting attention.”
William Burck, a lawyer acting for Odebrecht, said that, following the seminal case, the firm was “glad to be turning the page and focusing on its future”.