November 27, 2018 / 10:54 PM / 17 days ago

UPDATE 1-Brazil's Odebrecht 'close' to reaching leniency accord with Argentina

(Adds comments from Argentine officials)

By Brad Brooks

SAO PAULO, Nov 27 (Reuters) - The chief compliance officer for scandal-plagued Odebrecht SA said on Tuesday that the Brazilian conglomerate was getting close to finalizing a leniency accord in Argentina over charges that it paid bribes for public works contracts.

“We are at the negotiating table with authorities in Argentina,” said Olga Pontes, the chief compliance officer, at a briefing to journalists in Sao Paulo. “A deal is close, but nothing has yet been closed.”

She did not provide further details. Officials in Argentina’s Justice Ministry and its federal prosecutors office said they were not aware of any talks with Odebrecht on a possible leniency accord.

Odebrecht is at the center of the “Car Wash” investigation in Brazil, which has rippled across Latin America and which U.S. prosecutors have said is the biggest political graft scheme ever uncovered.

In 2016, Odebrecht acknowledged in a leniency deal that it had bribed officials in a dozen countries to secure public works contracts dating back over a decade. Over 130 top politicians and businessmen in Brazil have been convicted in the case, including former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Last year, prosecutors in Argentina and Brazil said the executive branches of their respective governments were trying to block prosecutors from both countries from working together.

However, Argentina’s Congress passed an anti-corruption law in November 2017 allowing for leniency accords and other legal mechanisms to fight graft, which Argentine President Mauricio Macri said was needed to move forward with the Odebrecht investigation.

In August, prosecutors in Argentina gained access to a trove of plea-bargain testimony that Odebrecht executives had provided to Brazilian prosecutors about kickbacks paid out across Latin America, the United States and Africa.

Pontes said that Odebrecht had closed leniency deals in other unnamed countries, but they have not yet been announced as those accords were still under seal.

She said Odebrecht was willing to negotiate and reach deals with any countries where it carried out corrupt practices in the past, and that if a deal was not yet in the works the blame lay with the government.

Brazilian prosecutors have said they will only hand over the plea-bargain testimony that nearly 80 Odebrecht executives provided in the past two years if other countries promise to not prosecute Odebrecht executives.

Not facing criminal punishment was part of the record-breaking $3.5 billion joint deal Odebrecht signed two years ago with prosecutors from the United States, Brazil and Switzerland.

On Monday, a prosecutor in Peru said that country was also close to signing a leniency accord with Odebrecht.

Reporting by Brad Brooks in Sao Paulo Additional reporting by Nicolas Misculin in Buenos Aires Editing by Leslie Adler and Rosalba O'Brien

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