On July 6, 2020, the US Department of Justice announced the unsealing of a criminal complaint charging two dual Panamanian and Italian nationals with one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, for facilitating the payment of bribes to a government official in Panama. The complaint, filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York on June 27, 2020, alleges that Luis Enrique Martinelli Linares and Ricardo Alberto Martinelli Linares, who are brothers, opened and managed Swiss bank accounts nominally held by Bahamian, and British Virgin Island shell companies, and used the accounts to receive and transfer bribe payments from Odebrecht S.A. totaling $28 million for the benefit of a Panamanian government official between 2009 and 2014. According to the complaint, many of the transactions were in US dollars, and were made through US banks.
Odebrecht, a global construction and engineering company based in Brazil, pleaded guilty in the US to FCPA violations in 2016, and entered into settlements with authorities in Switzerland and Brazil as well following investigations of a widespread bribery scheme involving officials in several Latin American countries, including Panama.
The defendants are the sons of former Panamanian president Ricardo Alberto Martinelli Berrocal, who was in office during the relevant period. Although Ricardo Martinelli is not named in the complaint, the allegations specify a “close relative” of the defendants as the recipient of the improper payments, and media sources suggest that the close relative is their father, the former president.