On Monday a federal judge in the United States ordered Odebrecht, the Brazilian construction conglomerate that engaged in a bribery scheme across Latin America and Africa, to pay US$2.9 billion in fines. US$2.39 billion will go to the government of Brazil, US$93 million to the US, and US$116 to Switzerland.
The fines were in line with a plea agreement that Odebrecht reached with Brazilian, American, and Swiss authorities in December 2016.
Under that plea agreement, the amount that Odebrecht would pay in fines was contingent upon how much the company would be able to pay:
“The fine is subject to an inability to pay analysis to be completed by the Department of Justice and Brazilian authorities on or before March 31, 2017, because Odebrecht has represented it is only able to pay approximately $2.6 billion over the course of the respective agreements.”
The same press release from the Department of Justice states that “Odebrecht agreed that the appropriate criminal fine is $4.5 billion, subject to further analysis of the company’s ability to pay the total global penalties.”
Under the plea agreement, Odebrecht is required “to pay a combined total penalty of at least $3.5 billion.” The US$2.6 billion comes on top of more than US$900 million to be paid by Braskem, a subsidiary of Odebrecht, to bring the total fines to just more than the minimum required under the plea agreement.
Although it is the largest settlement related to a corruption case in history, the scope of Odebrecht’s crimes warrants more than the minimum amount required.
Corruption undermines the rule of law and democracy. With its history of military rule, coups, and violence, the preservation of the rule of law and democracy is a matter of life and death for Latin America. At a time when the value of democracy is being questioned by world leaders, it is imperative that all entities that act to undermine democracy by engaging in corruption are treated harshly under the law.
Odebrecht’s activities have caused immense damage to many countries in the Americas.
As other international and domestic cases against Odebrecht and its employees move forward and the scope of their corruption scheme becomes more known, prosecutors should make an example of the Brazilian company. Odebrecht cannot be allowed to only pay the minimum penalty for such an enormous crime.
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