SAO PAULO, Sept 10 (Reuters) - Despite a corruption investigation that put its chief executive behind bars, Brazil’s biggest engineering group, Odebrecht SA, is stepping up bidding on public contracts in the United States, where it aims to increase revenue 50 percent this year.
The head of Odebrecht Infraestrutura in the United States, Gilberto Neves, told Reuters on Wednesday that work on an airport expansion in Miami, a highway around Houston and a levy in New Orleans will help lift U.S. revenue to $400 million in 2015.
The growth is part of Odebrecht’s plan to draw most revenue next year from outside Brazil, where charges of bribery and over pricing on deals with state-run oil company Petrobras have chilled public works projects and threatened its bidding rights.
Neves said the case has not caused trouble in the United States.
“We already spoke with government officials in the country. So far, no one has refused to do business with us because of (the investigation),” he said.
Marcelo Odebrecht, the third-generation chief executive of the family-run Brazilian conglomerate, was arrested in June and faces charges of corruption, money laundering and criminal conspiracy. He and the company have denied any wrongdoing.
The corruption probe, Brazil’s biggest ever, started with evidence of kickbacks at the oil company known as Petrobras or Petroleo Brasileiro SA, but has expanded to other state-run companies and implicated dozens of politicians.
The case has also touched off investigations around Latin America. Ecuador opened new audits of Odebrecht contracts, Colombia’s vice president threatened to ban the company for decades and Peruvian prosecutors traveled to Brazil to scour a treasure trove of evidence.
Lawyers specializing in white-collar crime said that Odebrecht, which sells bonds in New York, may face prosecution under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act if it paid bribes to public officials anywhere.
If charged and convicted under the act, the company could face steep fines and the possibility of losing access to some U.S. contracts, which have included a Miami basketball arena and highways in Texas and California over the past 25 years.
U.S. business provides about 5 percent of Odebrecht’s construction revenue, but a strengthening recovery there and a deep recession in Brazil should increase that share in coming years, said Neves. (Reporting by Aluisio Alves; Writing and additional reporting by Brad Haynes; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)