Odebrecht pulls out of Panama canal bridge tender amid probe

A man walks past the corporate logo of Odebrecht in a construction site in Caracas, Venezuela January 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht, under investigation for paying hundreds of millions in bribes across Latin America, withdrew its bid to build a bridge over the Panama canal, the president of the Central American nation said on Monday.

Last week, Panama prosecutors said they had charged 17 people, including several businessmen and former government officials, with money laundering in its bribery case against Odebrecht S.A. Prosecutors have not yet identified the people involved.

President Juan Carlos Varela announced Odebrecht’s pull-out via Twitter. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Odebrecht, a family-owned engineering conglomerate, is at the center of a growing corruption scandal in Latin America and has acknowledged distributing hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes across the region.

It became one of the most important government contractors under former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli and verbally agreed this month to pay $59 million in reparations for bribes it paid in Panama to win business between 2010 in 2014.

Martinelli, who is living in the United States, is also under investigation for corruption.

The Panamanian government announced last month it would cancel a contract given to the Brazilian firm to build a $1 billion hydroelectric plant and seek to exclude it from new tenders such as the canal bridge and a metro line while the investigation is ongoing.

Currently, Odebrecht is carrying out several projects in the country valued at over $ 3.3 billion, including the expansion of Panama City’s airport and the construction of a separate metro line.

Reporting by Elida Moreno; Writing by Enrique Andres Pretel and Alexandra Alper; Editing by Cynthia Osterman