Prosecutors from 11 countries agree to cooperate on Odebrecht case

Prosecutors from 11 countries in which Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht operated agreed on Thursday to establish “the broadest, most rapid and effective cooperation” on the massive corruption case involving the company.

The meeting was organized by the Brazilian Attorney General’s Office and attended by chief law enforcement officials from Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Portugal, Peru, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, countries that are investigating the corrupt practices – including the paying of huge bribes – engaged in by the firm to land public construction contracts.

In a communique released after the meeting conducted amid strict secrecy, the participants said that they agreed to create “joint teams for investigation, bilateral and multilateral” to coordinate the investigations in Brazil and the other countries where Odebrecht engaged in its illegal activities.

Those groups, the statement said, “will act with full technical autonomy and to develop their operations independence.”

They also emphasized “the importance of recovering the assets and comprehensive reparations for the damage caused by those illicit acts, including the paying of fines, according to the laws of each country.”

In Brazil, prosecutors have been investigating a corruption scheme in which Salvador, Brazil-based Odebrecht and numerous other construction companies systematically paid bribes to executives at state-controlled oil company Petrobras in exchange for inflated contracts.

Extra money was funneled to politicians who provided cover for the graft.

Brazilian construction company executives and Petrobras officials have been sentenced to prison terms over the pay-to-play scandal, while former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and numerous other powerful politicians have been implicated in the scheme.

Lula faces a series of trials stemming from the Petrobras investigation that could derail his bid to return to power in next year’s presidential election.

Dozens of Odebrecht executives also have agreed to plea deals that – once unsealed – are expected to further rock that nation’s political class.

In late December, Odebrecht and Sao Paulo-based petrochemical unit Braskem reached a massive settlement with authorities in the United States, Brazil and Switzerland.

Those two companies, which admitted to operating schemes for more than a decade that involved paying hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to government officials around the world to win business, agreed to pay a combined total penalty of at least $3.5 billion to resolve the charges.

Investigations stemming from Odebrecht’s admissions led to an arrest warrant being issued for former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo on bribery charges.

Peruvian authorities say Toledo, who is believed to be in the United States, is a fugitive from justice.