In a lengthy statement issued by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on December 21, 2016, it was announced that Brazilian construction-industry giant Odebrecht SA (Odebrecht) has admitted to violating anti-bribery and corruption laws in a number of countries and agreed to pay between $2.6 and $4.5 billion in a deal to resolve the charges brought against it in Brazil, Switzerland, and the United States. The settlement marks the largest anticorruption settlement in history.
Aside from the size of the settlement itself, the Odebrecht case marks a watershed moment in the international coordination of bribery and corruption investigations and prosecutions. For the first time, the bulk of the prosecution in an anti-bribery enforcement action emanated not from the U.S. or Europe, but from a part of the world not previously known for the aggressive pursuit of corporations and individuals engaged in corrupt practices.
The corruption at Odebrecht first came to light during "Operation Car Wash" – Brazil's investigation into corruption at state-owned oil firm Petrobas. Led by Deltan Dallagnol, the head of the Car Wash task force at Brazil's federal prosecutors' office, Brazilian authorities managed to extract testimony and evidence from dozens of suspects in the Petrobas case, evidence that led investigators to a much closer examination of Odebrecht. As the pressure and evidence mounted under Operation Car Wash, Odebrecht saw the wisdom of cooperation in the investigation and began negotiating with prosecutors in February 2016.
The investigation uncovered a sprawling graft scheme at Odebrecht – a scheme that evolved over the course of 15 years and spanned three continents. In addition to bribes paid to Peterobas, Odebrecht paid millions to public officials, their representatives, and political parties in order to secure business in a number of countries. Odebrecht even developed a fully-functioning business unit, officially known within Odebrecht as The Division of Structured Operations, but what prosecutors have dubbed "The Division of Bribery," to handle the scale and volume of bribes and bid-rigging. According to court documents filed by the DOJ, during the course of the scheme, Odebrecht paid nearly $800 million in bribes on more than 100 projects in 12 countries. The company garnered over $3 billion in benefits from the scheme.
While the final settlement amount will be determined following further analysis of Odebrecht's ability to pay, whatever the total, Brazil is set to receive 80 percent, having led the way in the investigation of Odebrecht's long-running and convoluted scheme. The U.S. and Switzerland will each receive 10 percent. Also under the plea agreement, Odebrecht is required to continue its cooperation with law enforcement, including any ancillary investigations into individuals who may have engaged in criminal conduct; adopt enhanced compliance procedures; and retain independent compliance monitors for three years.