US sanctions ex-Panamanian president facing charges over alleged Odebrecht bribes

This file photo shows former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, who is facing corruption charges in Panama and US sanctions. (Eric Batista/AP) (Eric Batista, Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

MIAMI – In 2014 and 2015, while in Miami, two Odebrecht employees met to coordinate the movement of bribes through companies in the U.S., according to federal prosecutors.

The case identified a network of over $3.3 billion in bribes from Odebrecht, a Brazil-based global construction conglomerate, involving attorneys, presidents, and other politicians.

Federal prosecutors accused Odebrecht of paying over $59 million in bribes in or about and between 2010 and 2014 to influence officials in Panama.

On Wednesday, The State Department accused former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, who plans to run for president again in 2024, of accepting bribes in exchange for government contracts and sanctioned him.

Martinelli’s two sons Luis and Ricardo Martinelli, both citizens of Panama and Italy, pleaded guilty in 2021 to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, and two counts of concealment money laundering.

Ricardo Martinelli Linares, right, and his brother Luis Enrique Martinelli Linares, left, stand in a jail in Guatemala, on July 7, 2020. (AP Foto/Moiss Castillo, Archivo) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

FBI special agents found the brothers had received $28 million in bribes from Odebrecht, of which about $19 million were in U.S. bank accounts, from 2009 to 2014.

The U.S. released the brothers to Panama on Wednesday after they served nearly three years in prison.

In 2016, Odebrecht pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and agreed to pay over $3.5 billion to resolve charges in the U.S., Brazil, and Switzerland.

Former Panamanian president, Juan Carlos Varela, is also facing Panamanian charges in a corruption case involving Odebrecht in Panama.

FILE PHOTO - Former Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela stands with Panamanian First Lady Lorena Castillo on Jan. 14, 2019. (Foto AP / Rebecca Blackwell, Archivo) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

About the Author:

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.