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article imageBrazilian construction tycoon sentenced to 19 years

By Damian Wroclavsky (AFP)     Mar 8, 2016 in Crime

Brazilian construction tycoon Marcelo Odebrecht was sentenced Tuesday to 19 years in prison for corruption and money laundering in the giant Petrobras embezzlement scandal shaking Latin America's biggest country.

Odebrecht, 47, one of Brazil's highest-profile executives, was sentenced to 19 years and four months after his conviction in the probe dubbed Operation Car Wash.

Odebrecht, who has been behind bars nearly nine months, was CEO until December of the global construction company Odebrecht SA, which is alleged to have been one of the main players in a bribes and embezzlement scheme that cost state oil company Petrobras at least $2 billion.

Authorities say that Odebrecht SA, a construction giant with projects in 23 countries, was among the major contractors paying bribes to Petrobras executives and politicians to win contracts. The contracts were allegedly then massively overbilled, in collusion with executives.

Odebrecht paid bribes to Petrobras amounting to 18.8 million reais ($28.7 million) and another $35 million, prosecutors said.

In a statement, Odebrecht's defense team called the sentence "manifestly unjust and unfair because it does not have any basis in the evidence produced."

"The sentence produced can only be seen as a serious miscarriage of justice or as the pure will of the judge," the statement said. The defense said it would appeal.

- Cartel -

Judge Sergio Moro, who heads up the Car Wash probe, said that the Odebrecht group joined other companies "in a cartel to collaborate systematically to manipulate Petrobras tenders for the construction of large-scale works from 2006."

Former president of Brazil's construction giant Odebrecht  Marcelo Odebrecht  was sentenced to ...
Former president of Brazil's construction giant Odebrecht, Marcelo Odebrecht, was sentenced to 19 years and four months in prison after his conviction in the probe dubbed Operation Car Wash
Heuler Andrey, AFP/File

The scandal has already seen dozens of businessmen and politicians arrested or put under investigation, including former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who faces allegations of taking bribes and laundering money from Petrobras-connected companies.

Among the alleged sources of bribes to Lula is another construction company, OAS.

Lula, who has not been charged, denies any corruption. However, the shockwaves from the scandal are fueling calls for his successor President Dilma Rousseff's impeachment.

Political temperatures rose sharply last Friday when police briefly detained Lula and searched his house and the offices of his foundation, prompting sharp criticism from Rousseff.

Odebrecht SA did not respond to a request for comment on the sentencing.

- Who's Who of scandal -

The Car Wash probe has been running for two years, uncovering what prosecutors say is a gargantuan web of corruption centered on the flagship state oil company but expanded out through economic and political elites.

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (R) and current president Dilma Rousseff greet ...
Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (R) and current president Dilma Rousseff greet supporters gathering outside his house, in Sao Bernardo do Campo, Brazil, on March 5, 2016
Nelson Almeida, AFP

A Who's Who of business and political figures have now been implicated at some level -- some of them charged, some already imprisoned, others merely called in as suspects.

At the business end they include Odebrecht, former international chief for Petrobras Nestor Cervero and billionaire banker Andre Esteves.

The political line-up is just as star-studded, including Workers' Party Senator Delcidio Amaral, former party treasurer Joao Vaccari Neto, lower house speaker Eduardo Cunha, Joao Santana, a former campaign guru for Lula and Rousseff, and now Lula himself.

The scam ran through much of Lula's 2003-2010 presidency, when Rousseff served most of the time as chairwoman of Petrobras. She has not been implicated directly in the scandal.

However, Amaral is reported by the Brazilian media to have told prosecutors in a draft plea bargain that Rousseff tried to obstruct the enquiry. There has been no confirmation of the report.

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