May 27, 2021

Two Austrian bankers face charges for their roles in global bribery and money laundering scheme

On May 25, 2021, the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York unsealed a September 18, 2020 indictment against Austrian bank executives Peter Weinzierl and Alexander Waldstein.  The indictment charges Weinzierl and Waldstein for their alleged roles in a money laundering and bribery conspiracy involving Brazil-based Odebrecht SA, a global construction conglomerate.

The indictment alleges that, between 2006 and 2016, Weinzierl (the CEO of an unnamed Austrian bank),  Waldstein (an officer at that same bank), and numerous unnamed co-conspirators used fraudulent transactions and sham agreements to move more than $170 million from Odebrecht’s New York bank accounts, through the Austrian bank, to offshore bank accounts held by shell companies controlled by Odebrecht.  These offshore bank accounts were allegedly located at an Antiguan bank controlled by Weinzierl and Waldstein.   The indictment further states that Odebrecht falsely recorded its money transfers to the Austrian bank as legitimate business expenses, resulting in it fraudulently reducing its tax liability and evading over $100 million in taxes, when in fact, it used the funds resulting from these money transfers to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to government officials.  In exchange for their alleged participation in this scheme, Weinzierl and Waldstein collected substantial fees for the benefit of the Austrian and Antiguan banks.

On May 25, 2021 Weinzierl was arrested in the UK to face these charges.  Waldstein remains at large.

In December 2016, Odebrecht and Braskem S.A. (an entity in which Odebrecht owned 50.11% of the voting shares) pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.  The companies acknowledged conspiring to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to government officials in a dozen countries, in what the US Department of Justice described as a “massive and unparalleled bribery and bid-rigging scheme.”  As part of global settlements with the DOJ and Brazilian and Swiss enforcement authorities, Odebrecht agreed to enhance its compliance program, retain an independent monitor for three years, and pay criminal penalties of just over $4.5 billion.  These penalties were reduced to $2.6 billion in April 2017 due to Odebrecht’s inability to pay the original penalty amount.  Odebrecht filed for bankruptcy in 2019.  In January 2020, the DOJ extended the term of its plea agreement by nine months, and in November 2020, Odebrecht announced that it had met all of its obligations under the plea agreement, and that its monitorship had concluded.

DOJ Press Release | Indictment