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Latin America

Sons of Panama's ex-president Martinelli under investigation in bribery and money laundering case

Panamanian officials are looking into $59 million in alleged bribes paid by Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht.
24 Ene 2017 – 10:09 PM EST
Former Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli.

Panamanian prosecutors announced on Tuesday that 17 people, including several businessmen and former government officials, are wanted for questioning in connection to a massive bribery case involving the Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht.

Univision has learned that among them are two sons of ex-president Ricardo Martinelli, who is currently fighting extradition in Miami.

Ricardo Alberto Martinelli and Luis Enrique Martinelli, as well as the ex-president's brother Mario Martinelli, are among those linked to a $59 million case being investigated by Panama's Special Anti-Corruption Office, according to a source familiar with the case.

Martinelli's sons were living in Madrid, Spain but fled before arrest orders were issued for them, the source said. They are now also believed to be in Miami, the source added.

The sons have denied the Odebrecht bribery allegations, calling them “groundless.”

Their father, a billionaire supermarket magnate, was president from 2009 to 2014 and has been under investigation for public corruption soon after leaving office, as well as his links to illegal wiretapping of his opponents.

Martinelli fled to the United States on a visitor visa in January 2015.

He has not responded to several messages from Univision to respond to the allegations against him.

He has denied the charges in other media. "He has not been accused or formally charged," according a statement published by the Miami Herald last month.

"He is in the United States because he faces political persecution," in Panama, the statement added.

The alleged Panama bribe money was laundered through Swiss banks, according to official documents obtained by Univision.

The announcement came days after Swiss banking officials froze $22 million related to the Odebrecht case, according to Panamanian officials.

Odebrecht and its affiliated petrochemical company Braskem pleaded guilty in a U.S. court in December to violating American foreign bribery laws as part of a $3.5 billion deal resolving a sweeping corruption probe of Brazil's state oil company.

That included $59 million in payments for bribes it paid in Panama to win business between 2010 in 2014. The sum is the amount in bribes Odebrecht admitted paying to officials and intermediaries there in a plea agreement disclosed in December in U.S. court.

The companies entered their pleas in federal court in New York in a case stemming from a probe into their role in a scheme allegedly involving more than $2 billion in political kickbacks at Brazil's Petrobras, dubbed "Operation Car Wash."

“Odebrecht and Braskem used a hidden but fully functioning Odebrecht business unit—a ‘Department of Bribery,’ so to speak—that systematically paid hundreds of millions of dollars to corrupt government officials in countries on three continents,” said U.S. Deputy Assistant Attorney General Suh.

The penalties were negotiated as part of a global settlement with U.S., Brazilian and Swiss authorities. Odebrecht is Latin America's biggest engineering firm. Braskem is jointly owned by Odebrecht and Petrobras.

Among those charged in Brazil are former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Odebrecht's former CEO Marcelo Odebrecht is already serving a 19-year sentence after being found guilty on corruption charges in Brazil last year.

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