Peru proposes to go easier on companies that cooperate under anti-graft bill

LIMA (Reuters) - Companies operating in Peru that help prosecutors investigate corruption help would be shielded from financial restrictions under a proposed law to replace expiring anti-graft rules, the government of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski said Wednesday.

A general view shows San Isidro financial district through a window, in Lima, Peru November 21, 2017. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

The finance ministry said proposed revisions to the year-old law that expires Feb. 13 aim to keep a massive graft probe from paralyzing Peru’s scandal-plagued construction sector while encouraging companies and individuals to provide evidence on wrongdoing to public prosecutors.

Under the proposed law, the state would seize a “non-minority” portion of assets sold by companies that have acknowledged or been convicted of corruption, according to a document distributed by the finance ministry.

Those companies - as well as their partners - would also be barred from transferring capital or dividends abroad, the ministry said. Companies under investigation but not convicted of corruption could opt to form an escrow account managed by the state to ensure its operations continue, it added.

But companies would be excluded “entirely or partially” from the restrictions if they broker a plea deal with the attorney general’s office, the ministry said.

Speaking at a joint news conference at the opposition-controlled Congress, Justice Minister Enrique Mendoza and Finance Minister Claudia Cooper asked lawmakers to pass its bill in coming days, despite a legislative recess that ends next month.

“We want to ensure that any company found guilty would be able to pay civil reparations,” Cooper told journalists.

It was unclear if the opposition, which has been preparing a new motion to impeach Kuczynski, would support voting on the legislation in a limited congressional committee active during the recess.

Set to expire Feb. 13, the original rules allowed the government to restrict Brazilian builder Odebrecht’s financial movements to ensure it paid eventual civil reparations for corruption. The company spurred graft inquiries across the Latin America since admitting more than a year ago to U.S. authorities that it had paid bribes to secure lucrative contracts from Peru to Panama.

But critics say the Peruvian government’s resulting clampdown on Odebrecht’s assets only deprived construction projects of funding while threatening to punish any other company that joined it in admitting complicity in graft schemes.

Odebrecht said it could not provide immediate comment.

Reporting By Mitra Taj and Marco Aquino; Editing by Lisa Shumaker