LATIN AMERICAN TASK FORCE
Prosecutors unite over Brazilian conglomerate bribes
Brasilia — Prosecutors from 10 Latin American countries will form a task force to share evidence in the investigation of bribes paid by Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht on construction projects across the region, a Brazilian prosecutor said on Friday.
Vladimir Aras, head of global co-operation at the prosecutor-general’s office, said the aim was to speed up the direct exchange of information by avoiding bureaucratic hurdles.
Odebrecht, Latin America’s largest engineering group, settled in December with Brazilian, US and Swiss authorities, agreeing with affiliated petrochemical firm Braskem to a record fine of $3.5bn. The company admitted to paying bribes to officials in 12 countries, mostly in Latin America, to help secure contracts.
Aras said prosecutors would be free to question witnesses and defendants in other countries and evidence would be valid across borders.
"Evidence will be exchanged rapidly because there will be no intermediaries," Aras said.
The agreement was signed on Thursday by top prosecutors from Brasil, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Panama and one European country, Portugal.
Odebrecht said it paid $439m outside Brazil, with the largest bribe admissions abroad in Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Panama.
Brazilian prosecutors singled out Panama in 2016 for not helping with their investigation, but Aras said that had changed. "Co-operation has been very satisfactory since last year and we have not had any problems." He declined to comment on requests for information.
Argentina’s government has asked Brazil to list the Argentinians who have been named in the Odebrecht bribery probe and the wider graft and political kickback investigation called "Car Wash" that centres on state-run oil firm Petrobras.
A federal judge in Argentina is seeking information from Brazil and Switzerland to determine whether President Mauricio Macri’s spy chief, Gustavo Arribas, took a $600,000 bribe from Odebrecht in 2013 when he was a private citizen.
Aras said Venezuela was co-operating in the investigation of $98m in bribes that Odebrecht admitted to paying to state officials and intermediaries to obtain public contracts.
Venezuelan authorities raided the Caracas offices of Odebrecht last Tuesday and have been seeking the arrest of an unnamed person since January.