October 30, 2019 / 1:59 PM / 19 days ago

UPDATE 2-Spain's High Court charges builder FCC over Panama contracts

(Adds comment from Slim’s Grupo Carso)

MADRID, Oct 30 (Reuters) - Spain’s High Court on Wednesday charged Spanish building and infrastructure company FCC with corruption and money laundering in connection with 82 million euros ($91 million) in payments made in Panama.

The High Court’s investigative judges said FCC paid bribes to obtain metro and hospital contracts in the Central American country between 2010 and 2014.

FCC declined to comment. It now has the opportunity to defend itself or appeal against the charges, before the judges decide whether to send the case to trial. The process could take months.

FCC is now controlled by Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim, who took a 25% stake in 2014 and gained control of the board in 2016.

A spokesman for Slim’s conglomerate Grupo Carso said the case related to a period before the Mexican acquired a stake in the firm. FCC is cooperating with both Spanish and Panamanian authorities in the matter, the spokesman added.

Documents published by the court on Wednesday show its investigation centred on allegations that FCC overcharged for steel in construction projects with a consortium including Brazilian company Odebrecht, using the funds obtained to pay bribes to officials in Panama.

The High Court said the managers who participated in the scheme were fired by FCC.

In 2016, Odebrecht agreed to the world’s largest-ever corruption leniency fine with prosecutors in Brazil, the United States, and Switzerland, paying at least $3.5 billion. The scandal over bribes for public works contracts spread to other countries where Odebrecht did business, including Peru, Mexico, Argentina and Colombia.

FCC shares closed little changed at 10.92 euros. (Reporting by Andres Gonzalez and Clara-Laeila Laudette; Additional reporting by Dave Graham Writing by Ashifa Kassam; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Mark Potter)

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