Panamanian Intermediary Pleads Guilty in Connection with International Bribery and Money Laundering Scheme

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Luis Enrique Martinelli Linares (Luis Martinelli Linares), 39, a citizen of Panama and Italy, pleaded guilty today in the Eastern District of New York before U.S. District Judge Raymond J. Dearie for laundering $28 million in connection with a massive bribery and money laundering scheme involving Odebrecht S.A. (Odebrecht), a Brazil-based global construction conglomerate.

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. 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.

Luis Martinelli Linares admitted that he agreed with his brother, Ricardo Alberto 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, Luis Martinelli Linares agreed with others to cause the wiring of the Odebrecht bribe funds into and out of the United States, and used some of the proceeds of the scheme to purchase a yacht and a condominium in the United States.

Luis Martinelli Linares pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. He also agreed to a forfeiture amount of approximately $18.9 million. He is scheduled to be sentenced on May 20, 2022, and faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Judge Dearie will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Ricardo Alberto Martinelli Linares was arrested, along with his brother Luis Martinelli Linares, 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 Feb. 4, 2021, in a five-count indictment in connection with this bribery and money laundering scheme. The United States continues its efforts to have Ricardo Martinelli Linares returned to the United States to face justice.

Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Breon Peace for the Eastern District of New York, and Acting Assistant Director Jay Greenberg of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division made the announcement.

The FBI’s International Corruption Unit in New York is investigating this case. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs provided substantial assistance in securing the arrest and extradition of Luis Martinelli Linares.

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.

The Fraud Section is responsible for investigating and prosecuting all FCPA 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 asset 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 kleptocracy@usdoj.gov.

An indictment is merely an allegation, and Ricardo Alberto Martinelli Linares is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

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