Peru demands ‘significant sum’ of cash from Odebrecht
Prosecutor wants money lost to graft back before negotiating a plea deal over corruption involving Brazilian giant
LIMA — Peru has demanded a “significant sum” of cash from Brazilian builder Odebrecht before starting talks toward a plea deal that would reveal the names of officials it bribed over a period spanning three presidencies, the national Atorney General’s office said Monday.
Hamilton Castro, lead prosecutor investigating the company, declined to specify how much Peru was seeking initially, but said Odebrecht would have to pay a bigger sum later in a final agreement after it provides details on crimes it committed in Peru.
Last month Odebrecht, a family-owned conglomerate at the centre of Brazil’s biggest-ever graft scandal, signed a plea deal in the United States. It acknowledged distributing hundreds of millions in bribes across Latin America, including US$29 million in Peru from which it received more than US$143 million in benefits. Regarding Argentina, the Brazilian company said it paid upwards of US$35 million in bribes. The alleged payments took part during the Kirchners administrations and were linked to at least three public works projects worth US$278 million. All in all, Odebrecht and an affiliated company agreed to pay a record US$3.5 billion in a settlement last month with US, Brazilian and Swiss authorities.
Peru was the first country outside Brazil where Odebrecht ventured nearly four decades ago, and is home to some of its most ambitious projects, from an irrigation tunnel through the Andes to a highway that crosses the Amazon.
“The illegal earnings the company obtained must be returned to the Peruvian state, that’s why we’re negotiating a significant sum of cash that must be deposited in public coffers as prepayment,” Castro told a press conference, describing the requirement as “unprecedented” in Lima.
Castro said his team would uncover Odebrecht’s kickback schemes in Peru with or without its help, but that direct talks would expedite the investigation he started in November based on Swiss intelligence reports. For its part, Odebrecht said in a statement that it would cooperate with prosecutors and was carrying out internal reforms to prevent corruption. A plea deal with Peru would be the second outside Brazil for the company, which faces mounting debt, financing troubles and criminal probes in several Latin American countries.
Odebrecht operated a sophisticated network of corruption and had encrypted details on its bribes that Swiss prosecutors were still working on decoding, said Castro. He said Peruvian prosecutors had made several trips abroad and established strong ties with their foreign counterparts that were yielding important results. “We’ve already secured the fundamental information,” Castro said.
Last week, the government of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski said Odebrecht would be barred from bidding on public contracts thanks to new anti-graft rules and that it might sue the company for damages. The Peruvian president wasn’t actively involved in any act of corruption related to Odebrecht, but the company acknowledged paying US$20 million to benefit a high-ranking official in about 2005, when Kuczynski was finance minister and then prime minister under President Alejandro Toledo.
Herald with AP, Reuters