Odebrecht: giant in construction -- and corruption


Rio de Janeiro (AFP)

As Latin America's biggest construction company, Odebrecht S.A. became a major player in Brazil's development at home and abroad -- until a huge corruption scandal known as "Car Wash."

On Tuesday, the former CEO Marcelo Odebrecht, 49, gets out of prison to finish his 10-year sentence under house arrest.

Here are key facts about the company and its disgraced ex-boss.

- A family firm -

Often described as a construction company, Odebrecht S.A. is also a major player in engineering, agriculture and petrochemical production.

The multinational behemoth was founded in 1944 in the northeastern state of Bahia, by Norberto Odebrecht, grandfather of Marcelo.

According to the company's figures for 2015, it had 128,000 employees, with gross revenues of around $39 billion and activities in 25 countries.

Exporting to more than 100 countries, Odebrecht S.A. is involved in a dizzying array of ventures, including even a submarine factory. Its high-profile construction jobs include Rio de Janeiro's famous Maracana stadium, the Mariel port in Cuba, the Simon Bolivar airport in Venezuela and the Grand Parkway highway in Texas.

Far leaner times have arrived in the wake of the corruption scandal, with employees reduced to about 75,000-80,000.

- Department of bribes -

Under Marcelo Odebrecht, the company became known for another big project: corruption.

Brazilian officials running the "Car Wash" inquiry discovered that Odebrecht was especially active in bribing politicians to help secure inflated construction contracts at Petrobras and elsewhere.

Odebrecht was also bribing politicians -- sometimes right into their pockets, sometimes into their party campaign slush funds -- to get favorable legislation passed.

The bribery was so intense that Odebrecht S.A. had a dedicated department in charge.

Seventy seven executives, including Odebrecht, eventually struck a plea deal, spilling the beans on the politicians who took bribes. His sentence was reduced from the original 19 years and now he will get to live in his luxury Sao Paulo home again.

- International fallout -

Probes have discovered more Odebrecht S.A. bribery schemes right across Latin America, including Mexico, Panama and Peru.

In December 2016, the US Justice Department announced that Odebrecht S.A. and its petrochemical joint venture Braskem would pay a $3.5 billion fine -- a record in international corruption cases -- after admitting to paying $788 million in bribes across 12 countries.

But even the main Brazilian judge tackling the scandal, Sergio Moro, has acknowledged the sensitive issues around his battle with a national icon.

"It's reasonable to be thinking about its survival, through mechanisms of compensation, in order to preserve jobs," he wrote in his ruling ordering Odebrecht's arrest.