For years Babalú Blog and other Cuban Americans have been calling attention to Odebrecht and its corrupt ties to Cuba’s Castro dictatorship. The media and the local press, however, decided to largely ignore it. But now that the bribery and corruption scandal surrounding the international Brazilian engineering firm is further exposed, they can no longer look the other way.
How Odebrecht cozied up to Castros while maintaining work in Miami
Brazilian engineering giant Odebrecht S.A. spent hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes and illicit campaign contributions to win work across the Americas and land itself in trouble with the U.S. Justice Department. Leaked documents show Odebrecht projects in Cuba also generated large unexplained irregular payments.
Over a period from 2010 to 2015, Odebrecht made irregular payments tied to the modernization of the port of Mariel, west of Havana, and the planned expansions of two Cuban airports, for which it had secured more than $800 million collectively from the Brazilian government.
References to these irregular payments all appear in Drousys, an off-the-books accounting platform that Odebrecht’s Structured Operations Division ran via servers in Switzerland. It was a system created to track bribe payments and other spending that it didn’t want to account for in public audits of its finances.
Found amid 13,000-plus Drousys documents is a document whose title references an $8.44 million payment under the English heading “Mariel Port Cuba conquest.”
There are references from 2010 to a “services agreement.” And there are contract “additions” between Companhia de Obras e Infra-estrutura (COI), the Odebrecht subsidiary used to carry out the Mariel project, and an Odebrecht-affiliated Dutch shell company called Likam Bouwwerken International.
Another Drousys document, filed under “Program 2013” and “Cuba,” referenced bank instructions for a $900,000 transaction between CIPSA and ENGETEC, two Odebrecht-controlled shell companies.
When word of Odebrecht’s involvement in Mariel spread several years into the project, reaction in Miami was fierce. It fell to Gilberto Neves, then the head of Odebrecht Construction Inc., the parent firm’s Miami subsidiary, to fend off criticism. His company was boycotted by the influential Latin Builders Association.
Now running his own construction company in Miami, Neves insists he was never asked to testify in U.S. or Brazilian investigations. On Cuba, he said he was sympathetic to Miami exiles.
“I told everyone who would listen that building in Cuba was a mistake, but I had no influence or input on projects outside the United States,” he said in a statement.
Odebrecht’s internal emails make it clear executives hoped to grow business in Cuba while still keeping it in Miami.
“I don’t even have to say that the visit to the island must be done under maximum discretion, under the risk of enormous loss for Gilberto,” Marcelo Odebrecht cautioned in a Nov. 21, 2007, email to three company executives.
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