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Friday, 8 September 2017

Two ex-ministers arrested in Odebrecht bribe probe

Two ex-ministers arrested in Odebrecht bribe probe

Two ex-ministers have been arrested and were being detained Thursday in Panama as part of a probe into bribes paid by Brazilian construction group Odebrecht in exchange for public work contracts, prosecutors said.

Demetrio Papadimitriu, former minister of the presidency, and Jaime Ford, former public works minister, were apprehended on Wednesday. They served under former president Ricardo Martinelli, who was in power 2009-2014 and who is appealing an extradition order from the United States to face corruption and other charges in Panama.

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The charges against Papadimitriu and Ford were not disclosed.

Ford’s lawyer, Miguel Batista, said that “from our point of view the preventative detention is illegal” and violated his client’s rights.

At the time of his arrest, Ford had been out on $500,000 bail granted in August after spending a month and a half in detention under separate accusations of pocketing millions of dollars in relation to the construction of a freeway. That case was unrelated to Odebrecht.

Papadimitriu had turned himself to prosecutors for his arrest, saying his mother had been cited in one of the cases and he was trying to prevent his family members being dragged into the matter. He denied having anything illegal to do with Oderbrecht.

Papadimitriu managed the electoral campaign that brought Martinelli to power and participated too in the 2014 campaign of Panama’s current president, Juan Carlos Varela.

Odebrecht agreed in December to pay a record $3.5 billion fine after admitting to paying $788 million in bribes across 12 countries to secure juicy public contracts.

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In Panama, it agreed to pay a $220 million fine and work with prosecutors after disclosing it had paid $59 million in bribes between 2010 and 2014.

A dozen Martinelli-era ministers have been arrested or put on bail for suspected corruption.

The former president, a 65-year-old supermarket tycoon, is alleged to have been involved in embezzlement, extortion, bribe-taking and ordering the illegal spying on communications of more than 150 prominent opponents.

As well as his fight to avoid extradition, he has applied for political asylum in the United States.

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