Panama bars Ode­brecht af­ter bribe al­le­ga­tions

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

Panama’s gov­ern­ment on Tues­day said it was bar­ring the Brazil­ian con­struc­tion gi­ant Ode­brecht from fu­ture pub­lic ten­ders af­ter the US Jus­tice Depart­ment ac­cused the com­pany of bribes to se­cure busi­ness in Latin Amer­ica. In a state­ment read by the min­is­ter of the pres­i­dency, Al­varo Ale­man, the gov­ern­ment said it has de­cided to “take the steps nec­es­sary to pro­hibit the Ode­brecht Group be­ing awarded... any fu­ture con­tract from pub­lic bid­ding pro­cesses.” The con­tract ban will last un­til Ode­brecht demon­strates full co­op­er­a­tion with an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by pros­e­cu­tors, and pays Panama for dam­ages, he added.

Ale­man also warned that Panama will take mea­sures to en­sure Ode­brecht leaves bid­ding pro­cesses for which it had al­ready been cleared. They in­clude a new line of the Panama City metro and a fourth bridge over the Panama Canal. Panama also will scrap “at no cost to the state” a hy­dro­elec­tric dam project that would have had the com­pany and gov­ern­ment work to­gether, he added.

The an­nounce­ment came the same day Pana­ma­nian pros­e­cu­tors flew to the United States seek­ing in­for­ma­tion about al­leged Ode­brecht bribes to of­fi­cials of the Cen­tral Amer­i­can coun­try. The US Jus­tice Depart­ment re­cently re­ported that Ode­brecht had paid bribes worth hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars to ob­tain con­tracts in nine Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries. It said the con­struc­tion com­pany paid more than $59 mil­lion in bribes to Panama be­tween 2010 and 2014 to ob­tain con­tracts val­ued at $175 mil­lion.

Panama’s au­dit­ing of­fice said it is in­ves­ti­gat­ing Car­los Ho Gon­za­lez, a for­mer pub­lic works of­fi­cial. And peo­ple still on the job who have seen po­ten­tially sus­pi­cious in­come surges may also be in­ves­ti­gated, ac­cord­ing to the gov­ern­ment. Two sons of for­mer pres­i­dent Ri­cardo Martinelli have de­nied Brazil­ian news­pa­per re­ports that they had re­ceived $6 mil­lion in­tended as a bribe from Ode­brecht for their fa­ther.

Martinelli lives in vol­un­tary ex­ile in Mi­ami. The Pana­ma­nian gov­ern­ment has re­quested his ex­tra­di­tion on al­le­ga­tions of es­pi­onage and cor­rup­tion. In Brazil, Ode­brecht-a home-grown gi­ant turned mas­sive multi­na­tional-has fig­ured promi­nently in the graft al­le­ga­tions and in­ves­ti­ga­tions that helped bring down the last pres­i­dent, Dilma Rouss­eff, and plague the cur­rent gov­ern­ment. Dozens of Brazil­ian politi­cians have been ac­cused of tak­ing bribes from Ode­brecht and other con­struc­tion com­pa­nies to line their own pock­ets and boost party cam­paign funds in ex­change for fa­cil­i­tat­ing in­flated con­tracts for the com­pa­nies with Petro­bras.

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