In Depth

Bribery scandal threatens to engulf leaders across South America

Secret department at Brazilian construction conglomerate Odebrecht oversaw £641m of corrupt payouts, investigators claim

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A bribery scandal which brought down one Brazilian president now threatens the political future of leaders across the continent.

What is the scandal?

Investigators have uncovered a secret "bribery department" at Brazilian construction conglomerate Odebrecht that oversaw £641m of corrupt payouts to politicians and political parties across Latin America, reports The Guardian.

The investigation, using plea deals and leaked documents, follows the so-called "Car Wash" corruption scandal which led to the impeachment of Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff last year.

Through the testimonies of 77 senior Odebrecht executives, including former boss Marcelo Odebrecht, the full extent of the corrupt system and the identities of those who benefited from it are slowly coming to light.

Who is implicated?

Brazil's current president, Michel Temer, and Panama's Juan Carlos Varela Rodriguez have both been accused of taking campaign funds from Odebrecht, while a federal judge in Argentina is trying to determine whether the head of the country's spy agency took a £481,000 bribe from the company. All three deny wrongdoing.

Perhaps the most surprising accusations came last week, "when authorities implicated two men who have based their political careers on a reputation for integrity in countries plagued by graft", says the Guardian. 

On Friday, Peru sent out an Interpol arrest warrant for its former president, Alejandro Toledo, on charges of taking £16m in bribes. In Colombia, the chief prosecutor has said Nobel peace prize-winning President Juan Manuel Santos may have taken money for his reelection campaign from Odebrecht. Both men have strongly denied the charges.

Is there more still to come out?

Earlier this year, Odebrecht agreed to pay £2.8bn to authorities in Switzerland, the US and Brazil to settle the case. However, "many in Latin America and beyond believe that agreement could mark just the beginning of efforts to unravel a complex and entrenched network of corruption", says the Guardian, with few counties where the company operated immune.

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