Photo via Politica Argentina

Press continues to get a hold of confidential information regarding the bribes that Brazilian construction company Odebrecht admitted to paying in the country between 2007 and 2014 in exchange for being awarded public works contracts.

Last week, a journalist for Clarín asserted the claim that the United States’ Department of Justice had sent Argentina information related to the case. During the weekend, a journalist from La Nación expanded on that claim and revealed two things: that former Planning Minister during the Kirchner administrations Julio De Vido arranged bribes for US $25 million to pave Odebrecht’s way to get a contract to extend the gas grid in the country; and that the company also admitted to having paid roughly US $20 million to be a part of the consortium that was given the massive contract to put the Sarmiento train line underground.

Regarding the first piece of news, De Vido was quick to reject all accusations. In a series of tweets, he assured that he never “arranged any payments with Odebrecht,” and, following the same playbook as all other officials from the former administration who had ever been in his situation before, claimed that he a is victim of political “persecution.”

“It’s nothing but an operation by La Nación, because the alleged confessing party [to which the article alludes to make the claim] admitted that he never talked about ‘bribes’ in my presence.”

“I thought the journalist was looking for serious evidence, but writes an article whose headline has no correlation with its content.”

“What interests must I have got in the middle of to suffer such persecution?”

Regarding the second piece of news, the journalist assured that the documents he accessed revealed that the company’s CEO, Marcelo Odebrecht, admitted to having paid roughly US $20 million to make sure to get the Sarmiento train line underground.

“The businessman confirmed the criminal operation his company carried out in the country, by acknowledging that the acronym ‘DGI’ that show in multiple internal documents don’t make reference to the Argentine tax collecting agency [then called Dirección General Impositiva], but were a euphemism to hide the payment of bribes,” the journalist claims. Moreover, he assured that the documents also reveal that the sums paid to public officials in Argentina were later included in the contracts’ final cost.

However, Odebrecht hasn’t revealed the names of the public officials who allegedly received the bribes, arguing that he delegated a lot when it came to these kind of operations outside Brazil.

Marcelo Odebrecht. Photo via El Pais
Marcelo Odebrecht. Photo via El Pais

The journalist goes on to report that other company representatives, who also reached a similar plea deal with Brazilian authorities, informed that Argentine officials also imposed the need to hire certain local companies for works related to the contract as an indispensable condition to award the contract to the company.

Government representatives, led by President Mauricio Macri himself, have compelled Odebrecht to withdraw from the Sarmiento project. It seemed like the company would grant the administration’s request and in fact sell the 30 percent of the operation it has to Italian company Ghella, also involved in the project. However, as the days go by and the Brazilian company still doesn’t follow through with what seemed to be its intention at the beginning, its actions became more unpredictable.

The government also faces legal obstacles to obtain the information it craves. Since the Argentine criminal code doesn’t contemplate the possibility of company representatives reaching a plea deal with authorities regarding corruption acts, the prosecutors can’t get Odebrecht’s voluntary cooperation and have to try to get the information from the Brazilian and American Departments of Justice.

For this reason, the government intends to pass a law that will allow it to do exactly this. The initiative has already been approved by a special committee in Congress and could be sent to the Lower House’s floor in less than two weeks. An aspect of the potential law to take into account is the fact that it would have a retroactive effect. This is rather uncommon in the Argentine criminal justice system, and all indicators point at it being specifically because of this case.

The government still hasn’t got Odebrecht to cooperate with the judiciary, and the company has shown no intention of doing so unless its representatives receive guarantees that they won’t be tried and that the company will be cleared to continue operating in the country.