Dominican Republic arrests officials in Odebrecht bribery probe

SANTO DOMINGO (Reuters) - Nearly a dozen people, including current and former top officials, were arrested in the Dominican Republic early Monday for ties to $92 million in bribes paid by the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht to obtain public works contracts.

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Those arrested included Victor Diaz Rua, who had previously served as the country’s public works minister, as well as the Caribbean island’s trade minister, Temistocles Montas, who tendered his resignation in a letter Monday.

Prosecutors across Latin America are making arrests after Odebrecht and its petrochemical subsidiary Braskem admitted late last year to bribing officials around the region.

In a press conference at the Justice Ministry, Attorney General Jean A. Rodriguez announced the names of the 14 people, including officials and lawmakers sought for crimes including money laundering, bribes and submitting false financial statements.

Ten were arrested in the Dominican Republic and another was being sought in Panama, Rodriguez said. He said the probe began last December in collaboration with Brazilian and U.S. authorities and that more charges could be forthcoming.

“We conducted 35 interrogations, reviewed financial statements and tax records which revealed unjustified wealth; who took the bribes and under what scenario,” Rodriguez said.

Some were skeptical about how deep the probe would go. “They are going to try to bury it all,” said Marco Fernandez, a co-founder of the ruling Dominican Liberation Party (PLD).

Andres Bautista, a former congressional leader who now leads the opposition Modern Revolutionary Party (PRM), was among those arrested.

“It’s now up to the judges to accept or reject the 18 months of pretrial detention against the defendants,” Rodriguez said.

Prosecutors have also asked Congress to wave immunity for one lower house lawmaker, Alfredo Pacheco, and two senators, Tommy Galan and Julio Valentin. Lawmakers across Latin America enjoy such protection from prosecution while in office.

In December, Odebrecht and petrochemical subsidiary Braskem reached a record $3.5 billion settlement with Brazilian, U.S. and Swiss authorities. Odebrecht admitted to bribing officials in 12 countries.

More details could soon emerge of those cases as a deal between Odebrecht executives and Brazilian prosecutors to withhold details from the public expires this week.

Writing by Michael O’Boyle; Editing by David Gregorio and Andrew Hay