When the Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht S.A. admitted in December 2016 to a massive corruption scheme that the United States Justice Department described as the “largest foreign bribery case in history,” it set off a wave of political scandals across Latin America.
Governments toppled. Former presidents and other senior officials, along with Odebrecht executives, went from the halls of power to prison cells. Odebrecht confessed to a detailed accounting of its misdeeds and is cooperating with prosecutors across the region who have vowed to bring its collaborators to justice.
But Odebrecht’s confession didn’t tell the whole story.
The Bribery Division, a new investigation led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, reveals that Odebrecht’s cash-for-contracts operation was even bigger than the company has acknowledged, and involved prominent figures and massive public works projects not mentioned in the criminal cases or other official inquiries to date.
These discoveries were made in a fresh trove of leaked records from an Odebrecht division created primarily to manage the company’s bribes. The records were obtained by the Ecuadorian news organization La Posta and shared with ICIJ and 17 media partners across the Americas. The leaked records reveal hidden payments across the region that extend far beyond what has been publicly reported, including:
- More than $39 million in secret Odebrecht payments made in connection with the Dominican Republic’s giant Punta Catalina coal-fired power plant. Two official investigations into the project that reported finding no wrongdoing didn’t mention these payments.
- Seventeen payments totaling more than $3 million related to a Peruvian gas pipeline. Among those slated to receive payment was a company owned by a Peruvian politician who, in an unrelated recording recently aired by a local news station, appeared to plot the assassination of a rival.
- Emails discussing secret payments that a bank owned by Odebrecht operatives made to shell companies related to the construction of a $2 billion subway system for Ecuador’s capital, Quito. The documents don’t say who received the money.
- Payments related to more than a dozen other infrastructure projects in countries around the region, including more than $18 million linked to the subway system in Panama City and more than $34 million connected to Line 5 of the subway system in Caracas, Venezuela.
Odebrecht paid off public officials on such a scale that it created a special unit, the Division of Structured Operations, for the primary purpose of handling bribes. The files obtained by La Posta and ICIJ contain more than 13,000 documents that had been stored by this division on a secret communications platform known as Drousys. These files were obtained separately by the Ecuadorian news outlet Mil Hojas, which then joined in the project.
International Consortium on Investigative Journalists | June 25, 2019