Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, December 14, 2021
Panamanian Intermediary Extradited to the United States Pleads Guilty to International Bribery and Money Laundering Scheme
Ricardo Alberto Martinelli Linares (Ricardo Martinelli Linares), 42, 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 a massive bribery and money laundering scheme involving Odebrecht S.A. (Odebrecht), a Brazil-based global construction conglomerate.
Ricardo Martinelli Linares was extradited to the United States from Guatemala on Dec. 10. On Dec. 2, his co-defendant and brother, Luis Enrique Martinelli Linares (Luis Martinelli Linares), who also was extradited to the United States, pleaded guilty in connection with the same scheme.
“Ricardo and Luis Martinelli Linares played integral roles in the corrupt scheme to funnel Odebrecht bribes to a high-ranking Panamanian government official,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “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.”
According to court documents, Ricardo Martinelli Linares admitted that he conspired with his brother, 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. These funds were wired into, and out of, the United States.
“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,” said U.S. Attorney Breon Peace for the Eastern District of New York. “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.”
According to court documents, Odebrecht paid more than $700 million in bribes to government officials, public servants, political parties, and others in Panama and other countries 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.
“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,” said Acting Assistant Director Jay Greenberg of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “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.”
Ricardo Martinelli Linares pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, and agreed to a forfeiture amount of approximately $18.9 million. He is scheduled to be sentenced on May 13, 2022, and faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. U.S. District Judge Dearie will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
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 Justice 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, Specialized Unit for International Affairs, and law enforcement authorities in El Salvador also provided significant cooperation.
The FBI’s International Corruption Unit in New York is investigating this case, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) conducted the transport of Ricardo Martinelli Linares from Guatemala to the United States.
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 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.