Central American Bank’s role in Brazilian construction company’s corruption case revealed


According to a recently published report of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), an investigation by prosecutors has unveiled potential ties between the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) and a corruption scandal involving a Brazilian construction company, shedding light on an intricate bribery scheme.

The long-standing Odebrecht corruption case has been a recurring headline in Guatemala. The Brazilian firm, embroiled in multiple scandals, admitted to bribing officials for a lucrative contract to revamp a major highway, resulting in over US$17 million in repayment to the Guatemalan government.

However, amid the limelight on Odebrecht, CABEI, a significant financier of the highway project, largely escaped public scrutiny. In 2011, the bank sanctioned a crucial loan of nearly US$120 million to fund a vital section of Central American Highway 2, linking El Salvador to Mexico.

In a departure from standard protocol, CABEI altered its procurement rules, mandating Odebrecht to secure the highway contract without the usual bidding process. Subsequently, millions in bribes were allegedly disbursed directly from CABEI’s funding, as per a UN-supported anti-corruption commission’s investigation.

Manfredo Marroquín, President of Transparency International’s Guatemalan chapter, Acción Ciudadana, voiced concern about the lack of transparency in CABEI’s fund utilization, highlighting the secretive nature of the bank’s policies regarding civil society and justice institutions.

Alejandro Jorge Sinibaldi Aparicio, a Guatemalan minister entangled in the scandal, accused CABEI of collaborating with Odebrecht to secure favorable terms for the company. Sinibaldi detailed efforts alongside Odebrecht’s operations chief, including lobbying CABEI and traveling to Honduras to meet top bank officials.

The former minister emphasized CABEI’s pivotal role in the bribery scheme, alleging Odebrecht paid a senior CABEI figure US$500,000 for facilitating final loan approvals. However, concrete evidence of such a bribe remains elusive, despite Sinibaldi’s claims.

Juan Francisco Sandoval, the former head of Guatemala’s Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI), initiated investigations into CABEI following Sinibaldi’s revelations. However, Sandoval’s removal in 2021 disrupted the probe amidst a crackdown on anti-corruption officials.

The aftermath saw widespread protests in Guatemala, with citizens denouncing interference in democracy and demanding the Attorney General’s resignation. Despite anti-corruption campaigner Bernado Arévalo’s landslide victory in the presidential elections, an investigation into his party was suspended, fueling concerns about political motives to hinder the fight against corruption.

The Odebrecht case, initiated in 2016 by Guatemalan and International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) investigators, faced hurdles when then-president Jimmy Morales abruptly terminated the CICIG in 2019 amid ongoing investigations into his alleged corruption.

Although the Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI) has led the Odebrecht case since, sustained efforts to impede corruption eradication initiatives have weakened their stance. Prosecutors and judges involved in the case have faced threats, forcing many to flee the country.

Siomara Sosa, a former FECI prosecutor in the Odebrecht case now seeking refuge in Mexico, highlighted ongoing retributive actions against those involved. Meanwhile, Sinibaldi, listed by the US for “significant corruption”, awaits trial in Guatemala, disavowing his earlier testimony, citing fabrication to discredit him among political circles.

The Odebrecht scandal in Guatemala forms part of one of Latin America’s largest corruption probes. Operation Car Wash in Brazil revealed the firm’s widespread bribery practices, leading to substantial penalties and imprisonment of high-ranking officials, symbolizing the magnitude of the scandal.


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