Odebrecht made a humble start in Brazil’s muggy northeast, where in 1944, founder Norberto Odebrecht launched a neighborhood construction firm with global ambitions.“He believed in a model based on trusting people,” said one former Odebrecht executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation.“He said, ‘If I choose them well, the sky’s the limit.’ ”
Odebrecht was on a cloud during the first decade of the millennium, when Brazil won hosting rights to the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games, affirming its status as a rising star.With the charismatic President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva touting Odebrecht abroad, the company secured lucrative foreign contracts to build highways, transportation systems, stadiums and power plants.But Odebrecht’s other export was Brazilian-scale corruption, undermining countries it was supposed to be building up.The company is today at the core of Brazil’s biggest-ever graft scandal, a $2 billion kickback scheme in which nearly 100 executives and politicians have been imprisoned.
The fallout is spreading across the region, creating a test for other countries tainted by Odebrecht’s dirty money.Prosecutors in Brazil, the United States and elsewhere have unearthed evidence that could implicate current and former presidents across the Americas in criminal conduct.Anti-corruption protesters marched in the streets last month in the Dominican Republic, where Odebrecht allegedly paid $92 million in bribes but where no charges have been filed.Colombia’s top prosecutor made an explosive allegation this month: that Odebrecht channeled $1 million in illegal donations into President Juan Manuel Santos’s 2012 reelection campaign. But the jailed ex-senator who allegedly made the claim denied it a week later.In Panama, 17 business executives and former officials have been charged, and one former Odebrecht executive has said he paid bribes to the sons of former president Ricardo Martinelli. The sons deny it. Prosecutors investigating the Odebrecht case have also raided the offices of Mossack Fonseca, the law firm at the heart of the “Panama Papers” leak.Then there are countries such as Venezuela, where Odebrecht has left bridges to nowhere rusting in the jungle. The late Hugo Chávez gave the company $11 billion in contracts, and Odebrecht paid an estimated $98 million in bribes, according to the Justice Department…And in Ecuador, where leftist Lula ally Rafael Correa is not running for reelection, his party’s loss in an upcoming runoff vote could open the books on $116 million worth of deals allegedly greased with $34 million in bribes.
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— Silvio Canto, Jr. (@SCantojr) March 9, 2017