Panama Intermediaries Each Sentenced to 36 Months in Prison for International Bribery and Money Laundering Scheme
Two brothers, each a dual-citizen of Panama and Italy, were each sentenced to 36 months in prison for laundering $28 million in a bribery and money laundering scheme involving Odebrecht S.A. (Odebrecht), a Brazil-based global construction conglomerate. The defendants were also ordered to forfeit more than $18.8 million, pay a $250,000 fine and serve two years’ supervised release.
Luis Enrique Martinelli Linares, 40, and Ricardo Enrique Martinelli Linares, 42, each pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering and admitted to agreeing with others to establish offshore bank accounts in the names of shell companies to receive and disguise over $28 million in bribe proceeds from Odebrecht for the benefit of a close relative, a high-ranking public official in Panama. According to court documents, approximately $19 million of the bribes were transferred through U.S. banks. Luis Martinelli Linares also used some of the proceeds of the scheme to purchase a $1.7 million yacht and a $1.3 million condominium in the United States, and Ricardo Martinelli Linares spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in proceeds to pay personal expenses.
On Dec. 21, 2016, Odebrecht pleaded guilty in the Eastern District of New York to a criminal information charging it with conspiracy to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) for its involvement in the bribery and money laundering scheme. According to court documents, the scheme involved the payment of more than $700 million in bribes to government officials, public servants, political parties, and others in Panama and other countries around the world to obtain and retain business for the company.
The defendants were initially charged by criminal complaint on June 27, 2020. Pursuant to a provisional arrest request from the United States, they were arrested at el Aeropuerto Internacional la Aurora in Guatemala on July 6, 2020, as they were attempting to depart Guatemala on a private plane, and later held on extradition requests from the United States. Both defendants filed multiple challenges and appeals opposing the extradition request in Guatemalan courts before ultimately being extradited to the United States, Luis Martinelli Linares on Nov. 15, 2021, and Ricardo Martinelli Linares on Dec. 10, 2021.
On Feb. 4, 2021, Luis Martinelli Linares and Ricardo Martinelli Linares were charged with conspiracy and money laundering charges by an indictment filed in federal court in Brooklyn.
“Ricardo and Luis Martinelli Linares directed millions of dollars in bribes through U.S. banks to their own Swiss accounts in order to help Odebrecht gain corrupt influence at the highest levels of the Panamanian government,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “Today’s sentences show that the Department of Justice remains committed to prosecuting individuals who enable and profit from laundering corrupt payments to foreign officials through the U.S. financial system, as well as those who attempt to spend the proceeds of corruption in the United States.”
“The Martinelli brothers used American banks to commit their selfish, greedy fraud – and now it is the American legal system serving justice with today’s sentencing, especially for the people of Panama,” said U.S. Attorney Peace. “Together, the Department of Justice, this office and our law enforcement partners stand firm against international corruption and will use all tools at our disposal to root it out.”
“The defendants laundered millions of dollars in bribes through the U.S. financial system to benefit a close relative and maintain their luxury lifestyles,” said Assistant Director Luis Quesada of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “Today’s sentencing shows that the FBI and our law enforcement partners are committed to bringing to justice anyone who enables the corruption of public officials for personal gain.”
The FBI’s International Corruption Unit in New York is investigating this case, with the support of FBI Legal Attaché Panama. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs provided significant assistance in securing their arrest and extradition from Guatemala.
Trial Attorney Michael Culhane Harper of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, Trial Attorneys Barbara Levy and Michael Redmann of the Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section (MLARS), and Assistant U.S. Attorney Alixandra E. Smith of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York are prosecuting the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Mantell of U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York’s Civil Division is handling forfeiture matters.
Additional information about the Justice Department’s FCPA enforcement efforts can be found at www.justice.gov/criminal/fraud/fcpa.
The Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative in MLARS was formed to prosecute money launderers and forfeit the proceeds of foreign official corruption and, where appropriate, to use those recovered assets to benefit the people harmed by the corruption and abuse of office. Individuals with information about possible proceeds of foreign corruption located in or laundered through the United States should contact federal law enforcement or send an email to email@example.com.