Odebrecht agrees to cooperate with Brazil corruption investigation

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The largest engineering firm in Latin America has promised to collaborate “definitively” with the two-year-long corruption investigation focused on state-run oil company Petrobras that threatens to bring down the Brazilian government.

In a note published on its website on Tuesday evening Odebrecht said that it hoped its “collaboration would make a significant contribution to Brazilian justice and to a better Brazil”.

Odebrecht’s statement followed further police raids on the company earlier that day and the arrest of 15 people.

Brazilian police also announced the discovery of a “bribe department” within the company, complete with its own separate management hierarchy, accounting methods and code-worded internal communications.

Speaking on Tuesday, Carlos Fernando dos Santos Lima, one of the lead prosecutors on the case, said there was evidence of bribes paid for football stadiums built to host the 2014 World Cup, and in particular São Paulo’s Arena Corinthians.

“There is a system, it’s even automated, to control these payments in the oil and gas sector, infrastructure, football stadiums,” Lima said.

Plea-bargaining testimony by Odebrecht management, including Marcelo Odebrecht, the company’s CEO who earlier this month was sentenced to a 19-year jail term for corruption, could prove devastating to the embattled administration of President Dilma Rousseff.

“This is going to hit the government like a hydrogen bomb,” David Fleischer, a professor of political science at the University of Brasília, said. “Odebrecht was very much involved with Lula and very much involved with Dilma and several other parties so their plea bargaining is going to be explosive.”

Both Rousseff and Lula have denied any wrongdoing.

On Wednesday, Brazilian police released a list of 200 politicians from 18 different political parties who received questionable payments for election campaigns from Odebrecht.

The document was found in the possession of Benedicto Silva, president of Odebrecht Infrastructure.

Both government and opposition politicians feature in the list, including Aécio Neves, the presidential candidate from the Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB) who lost to Rousseff in 2014, as well as Eduardo Campos, the third-party candidate from the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (PSB), who died in a plane crash months before the elections.

Key to the latest phase of Operation Lava Jato is the testimony of Maria Lúcia Tavares, a former secretary at Odebrecht, who is now under witness protection.

According to a police statement, the scheme “involved an institutionalised and professional system, in compliance with corporate structure which blatantly used surreptitious methods and codenames to protect the identities of the recipients [of bribes]”.

In one spreadsheet found at the company and released by the police, “flat head” (a term used to describe people from the north-east of Brazil) received a payment of R$1m ($270,000) on 23 October 2014 after entering the password “Lasagne”. Another recipient known as “the baker” received the same amount on entering the word “grasshopper”.

Tavares’s spreadsheets also refer to Odebrecht projects commissioned by state and municipal governments, as well as foreign countries such as Argentina and Angola.

Other documents released to the media on Tuesday indicate that the scheme may have been in operation for almost 30 years, suggesting that previous Brazilian governments may also be drawn into the scandal.

Odebrecht is a huge company with many international projects in Africa and Latin America, and some in Europe and the US, where it recently completed the refurbishment of Miami airport.

According to Fleischer, the company is desperate to avoid being frozen out of the bidding process for future public contracts and so is trying to seek some kind of leniency agreement.

“Odebrecht is also involved in the BNDES, the national development bank which financed a lot of these projects in Latin America,” Fleischer said. “That corruption scheme hasn’t been opened yet, but some people tell you that the development bank scandal will be even bigger than Petrobras.”

Source: The Guardian

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