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Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of New York

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Panamanian Intermediary Pleads Guilty for His Role in an International Bribery and Money Laundering Scheme

BROOKLYN, NY – Earlier today, at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, Ricardo Alberto Martinelli Linares (Ricardo Martinelli Linares) pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering for his role in a massive bribery and money laundering scheme involving Odebrecht S.A. (Odebrecht), a Brazil-based global construction conglomerate. On December 2, 2021, Luis Martinelli Linares, the defendant’s brother, pleaded guilty to engaging in the same scheme.   Today’s proceeding was held before United States District Judge Raymond J. Dearie. 

Breon Peace, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Kenneth A. Polite Jr., Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, and Jay Greenberg, Acting Assistant Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Criminal Investigative Division (FBI), announced the guilty plea.

“The Martinelli Linares brothers have admitted to establishing secret bank accounts in the names of shell companies in foreign countries and the United States in order to disguise close to $30 million in Odebrecht’s bribe payments to one of their close relatives, a high-ranking public official in Panama,” stated United States Attorney Peace.  “Through the tenacious efforts of the Department of Justice, this Office and our law enforcement partners, the defendants have now been held to account for their corrupt schemes.”

“Ricardo and Luis Martinelli Linares played integral roles in the corrupt scheme to funnel Odebrecht bribes to a high-ranking Panamanian government official,” stated Assistant Attorney General Polite. “They used the U.S. financial system to further their scheme, took steps to create shell company accounts at offshore banks to try to evade responsibility, and used some of the bribe proceeds for their personal benefit. The guilty pleas of Ricardo Martinelli Linares and Luis Martinelli Linares demonstrate that the Department of Justice remains committed to combating corruption at home and abroad. The Criminal Division will work with its law enforcement partners around the globe to hold individuals who use our financial system to promote corruption and launder illicit funds accountable.”

“Today’s guilty plea demonstrates the FBI’s commitment to working with our law enforcement partners around the world to bring justice to those engaged in international corruption,” stated FBI Acting Assistant Director Greenberg. “The Martinelli Linares brothers’ actions not only violated the law, but they also damaged public trust. The FBI will continue to aggressively pursue public officials and their co-conspirators who engage in this type of corrupt scheme.”

The Odebrecht 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.  On December 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 for its involvement in the bribery and money laundering scheme. 

At the plea hearing, Ricardo Martinelli Linares admitted that he agreed with his brother, Luis Alberto Martinelli Linares (Luis Martinelli Linares), and 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 his close relative, a high-ranking public official in Panama.  To advance the scheme, Ricardo Martinelli Linares admitted that he agreed with others to cause the wiring of the Odebrecht bribe funds into and out of the United States.

Ricardo Martinelli Linares and Luis Martinelli Linares were initially arrested at el Aeropuerto Internacional la Aurora in Guatemala on July 6, 2020, pursuant to a provisional arrest request from the United States as they were attempting to depart Guatemala on a private plane. The defendants were charged on February 4, 2021, in an indictment in connection with this bribery and money laundering scheme.  Luis Martinelli Linares was extradited from Guatemala to the United States on November 15, 2021, and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering for his role in the scheme on December 2, 2021.  Ricardo Martinelli Linares was extradited from Guatemala to the United States on December 10, 2021.

The Department of Justice commended and thanked the Government of Guatemala for its assistance in the extradition of both Ricardo Martinelli Linares and Luis Martinelli Linares to the United States.  The Department’s Office of International Affairs provided substantial assistance in securing the arrest and extradition of both Ricardo Martinelli Linares and Luis Martinelli Linares.  The Brazilian Ministerio Publico Federal, Departamento de Polícia Federal, the Federal Office of Justice in Switzerland, law enforcement authorities in Guatemala including the Public Ministry of Guatemala and Specialized Unit for International Affairs, and law enforcement authorities in El Salvador also provided significant cooperation.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Alixandra Smith of the Office’s Business and Securities Fraud Section, Trial Attorney Michael Culhane Harper of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, and Trial Attorneys Barbara Levy and Michael Redmann of the Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section.  Assistant United States Attorney Laura Mantell of the Office’s Civil Division is handling forfeiture matters.  The FBI’s International Corruption Unit in New York is investigating this case.

The Defendants:

LUIS ENRIQUE MARTINELLI LINARES
Age: 39
Panama City, Panama

RICARDO ALBERTO MARTINELLI LINARES
Age: 42
Panama City, Panama

E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 21-CR-65 (RJD)

Topic(s): 
Financial Fraud
Foreign Corruption
Contact: 
John Marzulli United States Attorney's Office (718) 254-6323]
Updated December 14, 2021