Panama given a huge Odebrecht information windfall

M. Odebrecht
Marcelo Odebrecht, doing time in Brazil, is singing for his freedom. The former CEO is accompanied by a chorus of current and former executives of the Brazilian-based construction conglomerate.

Swiss hand copies of Odebrecht’s bribe records to Panama

by Eric Jackson, from other media

Swiss prosecutors have sent four copies of a six-terabyte file, said to be the entire contents of the central bribe archive for the Brazilian-based Odebrecht that was captured in a raid on the company’s offices in Switzerland, to their Latin American counterparts. Panama’s Public Ministry is one of the recipients.

The archive, kept on a server and encrypted in the MyWebDay program, details billions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks paid in more than a dozen countries. Odebrecht’s bribes department, the “Structured Operations Division,” used a system of heavily encrypted and off-the-books communications called Drousys to discuss illegal payoffs, then eventually accumulated the records of their activities in at least a couple of central computer archives, one in Angola and later another in Switzerland.

Perhaps there was one in Brazil as well — when the scandals began to break in Brazil, computers and servers were shipped from there to Panama and have yet to be recovered. In any case, Swiss police conducted a series of raids on Odebrecht, its subsidiaries, partners and agents and sometime in 2016 recovered a server that they say contained the bribe archive. There were further raids, asset seizures and criminal prosecutions as the Swiss made progress on decyphering, understanding and corroborating information they found on the confiscated server. Now, according to reports in the Peruvian press, copies of the huge file have been sent from Switzerland to Brazil, Peru, Ecuador and Panama.

In Brazil there have been some detectives, prosecutors and judges who are unwilling to protect anyone in the massive public corruption scandal revolving around the state-owned Petrobras oil company and a joint partnership between Petrobras and Odebrecht, the Braskem chemical company. Dubbed Lava Jato by Brazil’s police — Car Wash in Brazilian Portuguese — the scandal has taken down politicians of all major Brazilian political parties and some of the minor ones and spread way beyond Braskem and far from Brazil’s borders.

The 2015 jailing of Odebrecht CEO Marcelo Odebrecht and his subsequent 19-year prison sentence, and threats against the company’s continued existence, have prompted a certain amount of cooperation with investigators in Brazil. The videotaped testimony to judges and prosecutors of many company employees runs into hundreds of hours and has resulted in criminal cases in several other Latin American countries. Seven Latin American republics — but not Panama — have requested the information from those depositions. It’s Panama’s for the asking, but whether we have the Portuguese translators or the budget to hire such is another question. Then there is the matter of whether there is a will to know.

In the United States, where Odebrecht operates and is known to have made payoffs to foundations and political action committees of politicians who were or would be involved in decisions about the company’s contracts, there was a prosecution for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in a dozen jurisdictions other than the United States. There were non-disclosure agreements in a plea bargain that ended that case, but in part because of the insolvency of Puerto Rico and the demand of bond holders to know whether their interests were compromised by Odebrecht bribes to officials in that US-controlled island, the US court files in the case have been opened to the public.

The Swiss apparently followed independent records of electronic international and domestic Swiss banking transfers to identify and corroborate many of the transactions described in the seized server. The US National Security Agency would have all of those data as well.

Panama would now, in addition to the product of its own investigations — the profundity or lack thereof which is as per Panamanian law not public information — have the Swiss archive and access to the Brazilian testimony and the US court records. There is a long and established pattern of Odebrecht’s operations, wherein they paid politicians in power to rig bids in their favor and opposition politicians, would-be competitors and labor leaders to go along with their schemes. There have already been allegations from several quarters about figures in the Martinelli administration and members of the Martinelli family taking large bribes. The pattern would suggest, however, that the previous Torrijos administration and the current Varela administration were also corrupted, that all three major parties in Panama’s National Assembly were on the take and that construction industry and construction union officials were also paid.

This pattern of conduct may be the reason for Comptroller General Federico Humbert’s promise to investigate all Odebrecht contracts in Panama — 17 so far — being pared down to a perfunctory probe of just one of these projects, the Cinta Costera III. It is alleged by Humbert that the one controversial public work, with its viaduct around the Casco Viejo, was seriously overvalued. But it now appears that Humbert won’t undertake any investigation into the conduct of the Varela or Torrijos administrations. That, in turn, would give Attorney General Kenia Porcell the excuse not to proceed with criminal investigations because she can’t without the comptroller’s audits.

Are there political forces in Panama that are not bought by Odebrecht? Of course. They are derided as hopeless losers, as pendejos, by the “smart money.”

Might there be an end run around the political blockade? Perhaps if the Swiss archive and evidence from Brazil and the United States were obtained, analyzed and published in their entirety by some non-governmental group. But Panama has criminal defamation laws that would typically be invoked against anyone who publishes such stuff here.


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