As the coronavirus pandemic accelerates across Latin America, allegations of bribery and corruption have also increased.
In April, when the epicentre of the pandemic was in Europe, the OECD warned that the pandemic could “create environments that are ripe for corruption”, noting that “many of the detected cases of foreign bribery have occurred in the health industry.”
Drago Kos, Chair of the OECD Working Group on Bribery, cautioned that “the high risk of corruption poses a major challenge to tackling this global health crisis,” encouraging countries to work to “ensure their efforts to overcome this crisis are not weakened by corruption”. Unfortunately, such warnings appear to have done little to stem the epidemic of corruption that followed the coronavirus spread across Latin America.
Brazil’s federal police have commenced numerous investigations into corruption occurring during the coronavirus pandemic, including investigating three state governors and other senior officials:
The governor of Rio faces the possibility of impeachment for allegedly embezzling money through emergency field hospitals. Former Ecuadorian president Abdalá Bucaram was arrested during an investigation into suspected corruption relating to the purchase of medical supplies.
The Bolivian minister for health was detained following an investigation into allegations relating to inflated prices being paid for ventilators. Similar allegations abound across the region.
It is perhaps of little surprise that the pandemic has precipitated an increase in corruption in a region where corruption and bribery are thought to be commonplace. The region has however experienced increasingly robust efforts to tackle the surge in corruption.
Recent evidence of increasingly effective efforts to tackle corruption came with news that Guatemala had arrested two sons of the former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli in relation to a bribery and money laundering scandal involving Odebrecht, a major Brazilian construction company. The arrests followed the decision of US prosecutors to charge the pair. Odebrecht has admitted paying bribes across 12 Latin American countries in order to secure contracts, in a huge scandal which has seen two former Panamanian presidents indicted for corruption and many high profile individuals across the region implicated.
The recent increase in corruption comes when sadly, over 90,000 people across Latin America have already died from coronavirus. Proof of widespread efforts to illegally profit from the human suffering the coronavirus pandemic has brought may further have the effect of hardening attitudes against corruption in the region.