DOJ Charges Two Sons of Former Panama President Martinelli with Participation in Odebrecht Bribery Scheme in Panama

DOJ announced the arrest of two individuals, Luis Martinelli Linares and Ricardo Martinelli Linares, who are the sons of the former President of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli) for their role in funneling $28 million in bribes to a former Panamanian government official as part of the Odebrecht bribery case. 

Luis and Ricardo were arrested  while attempting to board a private airplane at an airport in Guatemala on FCPA and money laundering charges unsealed in federal court in Brooklyn, New York.

Both brothers are also sought by the Panamanian government for allegedly receiving more than $20 million in bribes from Odebrecht. Panama originally sought their arrest in 2017.  The brothers have denied all the allegations.

The brothers were sent to a VIP prison in Guatemala that has housed former government officials, businessmen and drug traffickers.  The brothers had been detained in Florida in 2018 for immigration reasons, but were released on $1 million bond for each.

Ricardo Martinelli, the former Panamanian father governed from 2009 to 2014, was detained in the U.S. and Panama for more than two years on allegations of political espionage and misuse of public funds. A court found him not guilty in 2019 and he was released.

On December 21, 2016, Odebrecht pleaded guilty in the Eastern District of New York.  Odebrecht made bribery payments of more than $700 million to government officials, political parties and others in Panama and other countries around the world.

Luis and Ricardo participated in the scheme by serving as intermediaries for approximately $28 million in bribe payments made for Odebrecht to a high-ranking government official in Panama, who was a close relative of the defendants. 

To accomplish these payments, between August 2009 and January 2014, the defendants opened and managed secret bank accounts held in the names of shell companies in foreign jurisdictions.  These secret bank accounts were used to receive, transfer and deliver the bribery payments.

Luis and Ricardo served as signatories on certain of the shell company bank accounts and personally sent wire transfers through the shell company bank accounts.  Many of the financial transactions were in U.S. dollars and were made through U.S. banks.

Between 2009 and 2012, Luis and Ricardo opened bank accounts in Switzerland for the purpose of receiving, transferring and delivering bribery payments from Odebrecht to the Panamanian Government Official.  Luis and Ricardo opened and maintained the bank accounts in the name of eight separate offshore companies at five distinct banks.

The purpose of opening and operating the offshore accounts was to serve as intermediaries for Odebrecht’s payment of bribes so that Odebrecht could obtain additional business and advantages in securing business opportunities in Panama. At least approximately $19 million of those bribe proceeds were transferred through U.S. correspondent bank accounts at 2 separate U.S. banks.

For example, on July 27, 2010, a wire transfer of $350,000 were transferred from an Odebrecht offshore shell company bank account located in Portugal to an offshore company bank account opened by Luis and Roberto, which was processed through a correspondent bank in New York.

Luis and Ricardo later conducted numerous additional financial transactions through U.S. banks in New York involving Odebrecht bribery payments.  For example, on November 12, 2013, Luis and Ricardo transferred $899,978 from an offshore company account and another offshore company account.

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