Brazil graft scandal to mushroom abroad, prosecutor says

Brazil-based Odebrecht, one of the region`s biggest construction companies, was at the heart of a scheme to bribe Brazilian state oil giant Petrobras in exchange for inflated contracts. 

Brasília: A vast corruption scheme that started in Brazil but morphed into a giant international scandal is about to spread even further, a top prosecutor warned Monday.

Brazil-based Odebrecht, one of the region`s biggest construction companies, was at the heart of a scheme to bribe Brazilian state oil giant Petrobras in exchange for inflated contracts. 

Odebrecht also systematically bribed politicians, mostly in Brazil but also in other countries, even running a department to keep track of the bribery.

Odebrecht admitted to paying $788 million in bribes across 12 countries and agreed with the US Justice Department to pay a $3.5 billion fine, a world record in foreign corruption cases.

Vladimir Aras, the prosecutor in charge of the international side of the Brazilian scandal, told AFP that Brazilian authorities were scrutinizing at least 10 foreign companies.

He was speaking after a meeting of prosecutors from around Latin America.

The construction giant has done major infrastructure work around the world. And most of the looming investigations will take place in Africa and Latin America, Aras said.

International investigations linked to the case "are going to grow a lot," Aras told AFP in Brasilia.

"When you look at places where prosecutors are independent as we have in Brazil, we should expect that investigations move forward and shed light on other corruption schemes likely parallel to the ones involving Brazilian companies, mostly construction companies, that work overseas," he said.

"Inappropriate interactions between the public sector and private sector is not just an issue in Brazil," Aras added. "Corruption is everywhere."

Panama has said Interpol issued international wanted notices for two sons of former president Ricardo Martinelli on allegations that they accepted bribes from the construction giant.

And a Peruvian judge issued a domestic and international warrant for the arrest of ex-president Alejandro Toledo over accusations he took a $20 million bribe.

In Peru, the Brazilian company was the target of violent protests in January, which forced Peruvian authorities to scrap plans for an Odebrecht-operated toll road north of Lima.

The government has also sacked it from a $7 billion gas pipeline project that is less than a third complete.