Panamanian Intermediary in Alleged Bribery Scheme Charged with Money Laundering Extradited to the United States from Guatemala

Panamanian Intermediary in Alleged Bribery Scheme Charged with Money Laundering Extradited to the United States from Guatemala

Luis Enrique Martinelli Linares (Luis Martinelli Linares), 39, a citizen of Panama and Italy, was extradited from Guatemala to the United States today to face an indictment filed in federal court in Brooklyn charging him and his brother, Ricardo Alberto Martinelli Linares (Ricardo Martinelli Linares), 42, a citizen of Panama and Italy, with money laundering offenses in connection with a massive bribery and money laundering scheme involving Odebrecht S.A. (Odebrecht), a Brazil-based global construction conglomerate. He is scheduled to make his initial appearance tomorrow before U.S. Magistrate Judge Marcia M. Henry of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

According to court filings, 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.

“The successful extradition of Luis Martinelli Linares demonstrates the department’s commitment to work with our international partners to pursue, capture and extradite those who use the U.S. financial system to further their corrupt schemes and launder illicit funds,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “Thanks to the efforts of our law enforcement partners in Guatemala, Luis Martinelli Linares will be held accountable in the United States for his alleged crimes.”

“The extradition of Luis Martinelli Linares to the Eastern District of New York is a significant first step in holding him accountable for allegedly laundering millions of dollars in bribe payments through bank accounts in New York and elsewhere,” stated U.S. Attorney Breon Peace for the Eastern District of New York. “Combatting bribery and money laundering by extraditing and prosecuting corrupt foreign actors like Martinelli is a priority of the Department of Justice.”

“Anyone who facilitates bribe payments to government officials contributes to national security risks, whether overtly or inadvertently, and interrupts the free market system of international trade,” said FBI Assistant Director in Charge Michael J. Driscoll. “The FBI will use all available resources to put an end to this type of corrupt behavior.”

Luis Martinelli Linares and Ricardo Martinelli Linares are alleged in the indictment and other court filings to have conspired with others to launder approximately $28 million in bribe payments made by and at the direction of Odebrecht to a then high-ranking government official in Panama (Panama Government Official), who was a close relative of the defendants. The defendants were initially charged by criminal complaint on June 27, 2020. The defendants were 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. On Feb. 4, 2021, Luis Martinelli Linares and Ricardo Martinelli Linares were charged in a five-count indictment. The indictment charged both defendants with one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and two counts of concealment money laundering; Luis Martinelli Linares was also charged with two counts of engaging in transactions in criminally derived property.

On May 17, 2021, after several preliminary appeals were dismissed, the Guatemalan Fifth Criminal Sentencing Court granted the request by the United States to extradite Luis Martinelli Linares. On June 21, the Guatemalan Court of Appeals, Criminal Branch affirmed the ruling of the Guatemalan criminal court granting extradition. On Oct. 15, the Guatemalan Ministry of Foreign Affairs notified the United States, via diplomatic note, that the extradition was final and Luis Martinelli Linares was ready for surrender to the United States, resulting in his arrival in the United States on Nov. 15. The United States continues its efforts to have Ricardo Martinelli Linares returned to the United States to face justice.

The Department of Justice commended and thanked the Government of Guatemala for its assistance in the extradition of 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 Luis Martinelli Linares. The Brazilian Ministerio Publico Federal, Departamento de Polícia Federal, 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 FBI’s International Corruption Unit in New York is investigating this case, and the NY-ICS, New York SWAT and FBI’s International Operations Division conducted the transport of Luis 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.

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 [email protected].   

An indictment is merely an allegation, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

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