Odebrecht corruption scandal

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Odebrecht corruption scandal

Odebrecht corruption scandal, series of graft scandals involving the Grupo Odebrecht, a Brazilian construction and petrochemicals conglomerate, as well as Petrobras, the Brazilian multinational petroleum corporation, and numerous executives and public officials across the Americas and elsewhere. Odebrecht, founded (1944) by Norberto Odebrecht, was originally a local construction firm. During Brazil's military dictatorship (1964–85), construction companies began negotiating directly with the ruling generals in order to win lucrative contracts. The practice continued with the return to democracy, as companies embraced the opportunity to pay off politicians with campaign donations and direct bribes. By this time Odebrecht had moved into other countries in Latin America, as well as Africa, Europe, and the United States, and was focused on building large project including roads, bridges, oil pipelines, port facilities, transit systems, and power plants, many of which (from 2001) involved kickback and influence-peddling schemes.

In 2014 the Brazilian Operation Carwash, Port. Operação Lava Jato, probe was begun, initially into money laundering but soon expanding to the bribes and illegal campaign contributions paid by companies, including Odebrecht, to many prominent politicians and officials in exchange for contracts at inflated prices with Petrobras. Subsequent investigations concerning Oldebrecht's wrongdoing revealed the largest international bribery scandal in modern history—the company admitted to paying $800 million in bribes—and the revelations roiled politics in Brazil and other affected nations. In 2016 the company and Braskem S.A., an affiliate, settled with the United States, Brazil, and Switzerland for at least $3.5 billion under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for bribery and illegal financing involving Petrobras in 12 countries, among them Argentina, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela; some of bribes had been transferred through U.S. banks. Other investigations into the company's dealing are ongoing internationally. More than 70 Odebrecht executives have confessed to crimes and signed plea deals with Brazilian investigators to shorten their jail sentences; politicians who have been implicated by the confessions have accused the executives of lying in order to shorten their sentences. Marcello Odebrecht, the company's CEO, received a 19-year sentence in the scandal; Ecuador's vice president, Jorge Glas, is the highest ranking government official to have been convicted (2017) in the scandal.

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