Breakfast meeting, NorLARNet and BNCC – Odebrecht

On Friday, November 30th, NorLARNet, and BNCC gathered their networks in a breakfast meeting at Litteraturhuset, Oslo, with the Peruvian political scientist Francisco Durand, author of an acclaimed book on Odebrecht, the Brazilian infrastructure giant involved in bribery scandals with politicians worldwide.Benedicte Bull welcomed an audience of more than 30 people. She spoke some words of condolence to the memory of the President of BNCC, Harald Martinsen, who had just passed away. After that, Benedicte introduced the author of the book “Odebrecht: The company that captured governments,” Francisco Durand, who is a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, a professor emeritus of the University of Texas and professor at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú.

The professor presented his book one on the largest corruption scandals in modern history and explained how was Odebrecht was involved in corruption scandals that intricated politicians around the world. Its bribery ring spread over four continents and involved 12 countries. Durand explains that Odebrecht has been investigated simultaneously in three countries, the USA, Switzerland, and Brazil, where a third of current government ministers are facing investigation. Also, in Brazil, the former CEO of the company, Marcelo Odebrecht started a 19-year jail term last year after being convicted of paying more than US$30m in bribes to officials in Brazil’s state oil company in exchange for contracts and influence.

​Durand’s book is based on the study of three grand projects in Peru, the Lima metro, the interoceanic highway and the irrigation project Olmos, that involved bribery schemes involving four presidents and one presidential candidate. The book discusses several mechanisms used by Odebrecht to control governments, ranging from campaign financing and the establishment of close personal relations to politicians, to ensuring kickbacks on overcharged public projects and payment of direct bribes. He also discussed the impact of this kind of practices on the current situation of institutional deterioration in Peru and other Latin American countries where the construction conglomerate Odebrecht has operated. ​

​After his presentation, Jemina Garcia-Godos from the University of Oslo, and Larissa Costa Slottet from BNCC commented on the topic, focusing on their field of experience.
Larissa mentioned that Brazil is facing the worst recession in its history under the impact of corruption schemes. Odebrecht has paid bribes since the beginning of its existence to get contracts from governments to build roads, bridges, dams, and highways. The Brazilian investigation “Lava Jato” (Car Wash) lead to the arrest of most prominent politicians, executives and business owners. “The scandal with Odebretch is directed connected with the economic recession and political crisis the country is facing today”, she said. However, it also brought hope, for a while allegation of bribes and corruption is nothing new in Brazil. Rather, the fact that many important people are now paying the price for their actions illustrates the maturity and independence of Brazil’s justice system, concludes Larissa.

Jemina Garcías-Godos expressed that overall message of Durand’s book is unsettling for anyone with commitments to develop goals and democratic practices in Latin America or elsewhere. The main message of this book is actually the capture of the state by corporate power, she said. She found it unsettling to see demonstrated so clearly that it is not only the politicians who are corrupt and ask for money, but also the private sector offering payments in order to get important projects. Prestigious companies like Odebrecht embrace development, and with a facade of innocence they offer to bring much wanted infrastructure. García-Godos found it specially interesting to see how this is made possible by the coexistence of, on the one side, a formal legal framework that gives the appearance of adherence to the law, and the other side a parallel world of informal rules and norms that everybody who is involved in the business knows how to take advantage,​

​An active and alive Q&A session took place. Discussions continued in a mingling session and overall, people hope that Odebrecth situation can be avoided in the future.