Argentina's Macri blames Congress for Odebrecht stalemate

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri blamed Congress on Wednesday for lack of progress on a corruption investigation involving Brazil’s Odebrecht SA [ODBES.UL] that has roiled Latin America in recent months.

Argentina's president Mauricio Macri speaks during a meeting with Chile's President Michelle Bachelet at the government house during his official visit in Santiago, Chile in this file photo dated June 27, 2017. REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido

His government banned the company from bidding on new public works projects for a year in a measure published in the official gazette last Friday, but Macri said on Wednesday the company would be welcome to get back to work if Congress passed a law that would enable his government to negotiate a leniency deal.

“In Brazil they continue to operate and they could keep working here in the future but first we need to know what happened in the past and we are stuck due to lack of a legal instrument,” Macri told reporters.

His government proposed a bill that would allow companies to be punished for corruption and also enable them to sign leniency agreements in exchange for collaborating with prosecutors that was passed by the lower house on July 5.

But Macri said a key clause allowing leniency agreements had been removed.

“For some reason (lawmakers) prefer that Odebrecht does not talk,” Macri said.

The proposal could be further amended before it is voted on in the Senate.

In December, Odebrecht and petrochemical subsidiary Braskem SA settled with Brazilian, U.S. and Swiss authorities for a record fine of $3.5 billion. In that settlement, Odebrecht admitted to bribing officials in 12 countries, including $35 million in Argentina between 2007 and 2014.

It is now trying to settle with the other countries it admitted to paying bribes in, and prosecutors across Latin America initially vowed quick action.

In Peru, a lack of convictions so far related to the $29 million in bribes that Odebrecht acknowledged paying in the Andean country has also stirred concerns that local investigations have stalled.

However, Peruvian prosecutors who signed a collaboration agreement with Odebrecht have cited testimony from the company’s former executives in criminal cases involving two former presidents.

Reporting by Caroline Stauffer; Additional reporting by Mitra Taj in Lima; Editing by Bernard Orr