Argentina congress passes law to fight corporate corruption

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina’s congress on Wednesday passed a law aimed at punishing companies for corruption by fining or blacklisting them from public contracts, a measure that comes as the judiciary reviews high-profile graft cases.

Argentine President Mauricio Macri speaks during an interview with Reuters in New York, NY, U.S. November 7, 2017. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

The measure also includes a provision for companies to sign leniency agreements lessening their punishments in exchange for providing pertinent information to prosecutors.

Fines can be up to five times the amount companies are determined to have obtained by illicit means and firms can be banned from bidding for public contracts for up to 10 years.

President Mauricio Macri has said the law was needed for Argentina to move forward with a corruption investigation involving Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht SA [ODBES.UL] that has roiled Latin America in recent years.

The measure had already passed the Senate and on Wednesday passed the lower house with 144 votes in favor, six against and 31 abstentions.

“We are changing! This law promotes corporate ethics and harshly punishes companies that participate in corruption,” Laura Alonso, head of the government’s anti-corruption office, said on Twitter.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development had urged Argentina to pass the law in order to comply with its Anti-Bribery Convention.

Last week Amado Boudou, who had been former President Cristina Fernandez’s economy minister and vice president, was arrested on corruption charges.

Fernandez’s former planning minister, Julio De Vido, was arrested on Oct. 25, just three days after Macri’s “Cambiemos,” or “Let’s Change,” coalition swept Argentina’s Oct. 22 midterm elections.

Boudou and De Vido deny wrongdoing and Fernandez’s party has accused Macri of using the judicial system to persecute political opponents.

Reporting by Caroline Stauffer and Maximilian Heath; Editing by James Dalgleish