Israeli executive arrested in Bulgaria on Guatemala bribery suspicions

An executive in an Israeli construction firm was arrested in Bulgaria on Thursday at the request of Guatemalan authorities over suspicions he paid millions of dollars in bribes to a Guatemalan minister in order to secure government construction contracts for his company.

Azaria Levy, 70, was detained by Bulgarian authorities at the request of Interpol in the Black Sea coastal city of Varna after stepping off a flight from Israel.

Levy is an executive in SBI, Solel Boneh’s overseas arm, a subsidiary of the Israeli construction firm Shikun & Binui. The company has built roads, power plants and other projects throughout Africa, Latin America and elsewhere.

On August 14, Guatemalan prosecutors announced several SBI officials were suspected of paying $6.1 million in bribes to former minister of communications, infrastructure and housing Alejandro Sinibaldi between 2012 and 2015 in order to secure contracts.

The suspicions against the SBI officials and Sinibaldi, who fled Guatemala to escape arrest, are a small part of a vast web of bribery investigations throughout Latin America that initially targeted wide-scale corruption on the part of Brazilian construction company Odebrecht SA, which has admitted to bribing officials and has paid billions in settlements in the US, Brazil and Switzerland, according to Reuters.

Sinibaldi allegedly coordinated some $9 million in bribes linked to Odebrecht, a figure that apparently does not include the alleged Israeli bribes.

Guatemala and Bulgaria don’t have an extradition treaty, so it remains unclear whether Bulgaria will extradite Levy to Guatemala.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said the consul in Sofia is monitoring Levy’s situation.

Separately, SBI’s parent company Shikun & Binui has faced a massive bribery scandal over the past year that has seen the detentions of a former CEO, Ofer Kotler, and a sitting chairman, Moshe Lahmani. The allegations involve alleged bribes paid out to officials in Kenya for the securing of government contracts in the African nation.

The Times of Israel | January 13, 2019