On December 21, 2016 the so-called Odebrecht case became the biggest investigation into corruption in Latin America in history.
A document from the United States Department of Justice, whose content was published in Argentina by Perfil, revealed the confessions of six executives of Brazil’s largest construction firm and exposed bribes to the tune of US$439 million to public servants in 12 countries in Latin America and Africa as well as another US$ 599 million in Brazil.
One year later, the Argentine chapter of this case has had a unique effect on the federal courts where several judges and prosecutors have felt exposed, and where attention has turned to key players in the corruption game: businesspeople.
“Lava Jato” — as the case is known in Brazil — proved how the rhythm of the courts is the perfect game of spot the difference when it comes to the treatment of business figures versus public figures. Twelve months after the revelations, only two businessmen from the elite of the public works sector have been investigated over alleged payment of bribes, though their bank accounts have been frozen.
The cases are split into seven judicial investigations between four judges including suspected bribe payments to officials of the former Kirchner administrations, tender giveaways, irregular contracts and cartelization of public works.
There are at least 58 former public servants and business executives under investigation according to Perfil. None of them has been charged. Beyond Odebrecht and its local associates, the Brazilian firm Camargo Correa is also under suspicion in the investigation and the Argentine firm Electroingeniería, undoubtedly an ally of the Kichners that has repositioned itself in the era of the current national government, is linked to the Transener case involving alleged bribe payments to former minister Julio de Vido.
Odebrecht executives confessed that the company paid bribes of up to US$35 million to Argentine officials from 2007 to 2014. The allegations involve Kirchner administration officials and Angelo Calaterra alike. Cousin of president Mauricio Macri, Calcaterra’s former construction firm IECSA is an associate of Brazil’s Odebrecht in the transformation of the Sarmiento train service into an underground line. Prosecutor Franco Picardi requested an asset embargo of US$ 54 million on Calcaterra and others allegedly involved in the case. Judge Marcelo Martínez de Giorgi must decide whether to act on the investigation’s findings or not.
Another man who is close to Macri, former Argentine Federal Intelligence (AFI) director Gustavo Arribas, has been luckier. Suspected of receiving payment from Odebrecht, he was absolved in express timing despite documents that prove incoming transfers to his Swiss bank account. The evidence of supposed bribes never reached the court.
In June, Perfil revealed spreadsheets with the details of some of the bribe payments in which Argentine recipients are identified with pseudonyms. But the back and forths between Brazil and Argentine judges put the brakes on progress in the investigations. Magistrates have opted to change the focus of their local investigation and have concentrated on presumed irregularities in the works projects. Unlike the concessions about bribe payments, the evidence about irregularities in public works are here, in internal documents linked to the former Planning minister De Vido.
Perfil revealed that during one year the government of Néstor Kirchner and Odebrecht agreed to conditions that allowed the Brazilian firm to secure contracts for 2006-2008 gas pipelines valued at US$ 2.3 billion. Authorities then set up an express tender process whose conditions only Odebrecht could comply with.
Never before had they stepped foot in the courts. Businessmen Aldo Roggio and Carlos Wagner, two figureheads in construction and public works, were questioned on December 18 and 19 by federal judge Sebastián Casanello who must decide whether to charge them along with 26 other suspects in the case of the AYSA treatment plants in Tigre and Berazategui. There, the firms Roggio Hermanos and Esusco were associates of Odebrecht and Camargo Correa. There are more associate under suspicion: Supercemento and Cartellone, another two big names.
Other businessmen have not been as lucky. The slowest cases are the ones that point to the biggest firm: Techint, an emblematic company that seems difficult to reach despite two legal battles The Italian-Argentine firm is being investigated in Brazil, Italy and Argentina for alleged bribe payments made to Brazilian officials from within the inner circle based in Buenos Aires.