A 19-year prison sentence handed down in connection with Brazil’s widening “Car Wash” scandal is a wake-up call for any company that has done any kind of business with Odebrecht SA, the largest construction company in Brazil and, indeed, South America.
As noted by Jaclyn Jaeger in several pieces in Compliance Week, the scandal began with the Brazilian entity Petrobras but has significantly expanded. In early March, Brazilian prosecutors secured a major conviction of the first of the non-Petrobras defendants, in the ever-burgeoning “Car Wash” scandal. The defendant convicted by a Brazilian court was Marcelo Odebrecht, the former head of Odebrecht SA, the largest construction company in Brazil and, indeed, all of South America. He was convicted on counts of money laundering, corruption, and organized crime centered on the bribery schemes his company had in place with Petrobras.
For any U.S. or European company that has done business in Brazil with or through Odebrecht, this conviction should be a very large wake-up call. The Car Wash corruption scandal has spread far beyond Petrobras and the energy sector, now encompassing construction, power, and other infrastructure entities. With all the construction that has occurred for the 2014 World Cup and that which is continuing to take place for this summer’s Olympic Games, now is the time to begin reviewing not only your third parties in Brazil but the whole of your contractual relationships to see if there are any Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, U.K. Bribery Act, or other anti-corruption issues which you might need to address.
The sentence handed down to Mr. Odebrecht—19 years—was quite severe. Under Brazilian law, cooperation with authorities after conviction can lead to a sentence reduction, so he is highly motivated to name names. Odebrecht SA had offices and contracts across the Americas, including the United States. Any U.S. company that has done business with Odebrecht or his former company would be wise to get out in front of any investigation now, rather than waiting for the Justice Department or SEC to come calling. Moreover, the company also had received very large contracts from governments in Ghana, Cuba, Angola, and the Dominican Republic. Any companies that sub-contracted with Odebrecht on any projects in these countries should review these transactions as well.
The worldwide fight against bribery and corruption is going full speed ahead. The ripples and fallouts from a simple Car Wash investigation continue to fan out across the globe. Compliance professionals need to not only be aware of such developments but factor them into their risk assessments going forward.