July 4, 2018 / 11:37 PM / 17 days ago

Odebrecht probe hits hurdle in Peru as company demands guarantees: sources

LIMA (Reuters) - A far-reaching investigation into bribes paid by Odebrecht in Peru has hit a rough patch as the Brazilian builder is pressing local prosecutors to close a plea deal that would give it broader legal guarantees, two sources in Peru’s attorney general’s office said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: Headquarters of the Odebrecht Brazilian construction conglomerate is seen in Lima, Peru, January 24, 2017. REUTERS/Guadalupe Pardo

Odebrecht has raised its complaints about the probe in Peru to authorities in Brazil, prompting the office of Brazil’s prosecutor general to suspend its judicial cooperation with the Andean country, the office of Brazil’s prosecutor general said.

In late 2016, Odebrecht admitted publicly to having orchestrated kickback schemes in a dozen countries and has signed plea deals in Brazil, the United States, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Guatemala.

In early 2017, Odebrecht agreed to provide Peruvian prosecutors information on bribes it paid to government officials, but the company and Peruvian prosecutors have still not signed a formal plea deal that would reduce its exposure to legal risks.

If Odebrecht decides to stop cooperating with Peruvian prosecutors or Brazil blocks their access to key witnesses or evidence in Brazil, it would deal a major blow to criminal probes in Peru involving four former presidents, former government officials and the head of the opposition party.

The two sources said Odebrecht wants the legal protections of a plea deal in Peru because it feels it is being treated as a suspect and not a willing informant by local authorities, who have seized documents and frozen some of its assets pending payment of an eventual fine. Both sources spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Peruvian attorney general’s office said in a statement that there are always “ups and downs” in plea deal negotiations and that talks with the company continue.   

Odebrecht said it remained committed to continuing to help Peruvian prosecutors “as long as the basic premises in the process are respected, guaranteeing the company’s legal security and the people who support the investigations.”   

The office of Brazil’s prosecutor general said it has asked Peru to respond to allegations made by Odebrecht’s lawyers that its prosecutors have violated requirements established by Brazil for sharing information on Odebrecht with other countries.

Without a plea deal with Odebrecht in Peru, prosecutors will not be able to use in trial any evidence provided by the company, or testimony from the former head of the company in Peru about an alleged $20 million bribe to former president Alejandro Toledo, said Toledo’s lawyer, Heriberto Benitez.

Toledo denies taking any bribes.

Reporting by Mitra Taj, Additional reporting by Brad Brooks in Sao Paulo; Editing by Leslie Adler

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