QUITO – Ecuadorian authorities raided the offices in Guayaquil of Brazilian construction group Odebrecht early Friday, seizing documents and computer equipment that could provide evidence to support allegations that more than $35.5 million in bribes were paid to government officials.
Folders, notebooks, CDs, laptop computers, a central processing unit and two external hard disks were seized during Friday’s raid at a shopping center in the port city, according to the Attorney General’s Office, which has requested assistance in its investigation from the United States, Brazil and Switzerland.
Salvador, Brazil-based Odebrecht and Sao Paulo-based petrochemical company Braskem, which Odebrecht partially controls, pleaded guilty to paying hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to government officials around the world to win business and agreed to pay a combined $3.5 billion in penalties to U.S., Brazilian and Swiss authorities, the U.S. Justice Department announced on Wednesday.
Odebrecht is among a group of companies accused by Brazilian prosecutors of forming a cartel to overcharge state oil company Petrobras for contracts.
Much of the extra money went to corrupt Petrobras officials who approved the deals, while some of the loot was set aside to pay off politicians who provided cover for the graft.
The bribes-for-inflated contracts scandal forced Petrobras to write off some 6.2 billion reais (around $1.9 billion at the current exchange rate) in graft-related losses from the period between 2004-2014.
Top executives at some of Brazil’s leading construction and engineering companies, including former Odebrecht CEO Marcelo Odebrecht (who has since entered into a plea deal), have been sentenced to long prison terms over the scheme.
Ecuadorian Attorney General Galo Chiriboga said on Thursday that reports solicited from U.S. and Brazilian authorities about possible ramifications of their investigation for Ecuador would provide a sufficient basis for probing the alleged payment of bribes to government officials.
Odebrecht was expelled from Ecuador in 2008, although the company later reconciled with President Rafael Correa’s administration and once against became a leading government contractor, taking part in five projects that, according to the National Communications Secretariat, have been audited by the General Comptroller’s Office.
The legal secretary of the president’s office, Alexis Mera, said “serious irregularities” were found in connection with the Minas-San Francisco hydroelectric project after Correa took office in early 2007, but that no “deposits or checks” were discovered.