(In third paragraph corrects first name and description of company chairman Emilio Odebrecht)
By Anthony Boadle
BRASILIA, Dec 2 (Reuters) - Engineering conglomerate Odebrecht took out full-page advertisements in Brazil’s main newspapers on Friday to apologize to Brazilians for its involvement in the country’s biggest ever corruption scandal.
The apology by Latin America’s largest engineering firm was received with skepticism in a country with a history of political corruption and crony capitalism, and many Brazilians expressed their anger at the company on social media.
In a long-awaited leniency deal, the family-owned firm signed a 6.7 billion real ($1.94 billion) agreement with prosecutors on Thursday admitting guilt and offering information on bribes paid. More than 70 of its executives, including family patriarch and chairman Emilio Odebrecht and his jailed son and former CEO Marcelo Odebrecht, have agreed to make plea statements.
The bargain will allow Odebrecht SA to return to bidding for public works projects from which it was banned for its role, along with other engineering companies, in the massive bribe and kickbacks scheme centered on state-run oil company Petrobras.
The deal also has Brazil’s political establishment on edge as plea statements are expected to name as many as 200 politicians who allegedly received graft money from the company. Prosecutors said Odebrecht had an office dedicated to paying bribes.
“Odebrecht recognizes that it took part in improper practices ... we connived with such practices and did not fight them as we should have ... It was a big mistake,” the company said in its ad, vowing to mend its ways and turn the page.
The leniency deal, which spreads the fine payment over 20 years, will give Odebrecht a financial breather and help it restructure debt-burdened businesses and revive a shrinking pipeline of projects at its flagship engineering unit.
Some Brazilians were not so forgiving.
“No, you committed CRIMES! They were not mistakes! I won’t forgive them! They helped dilapidate the country. They should pay,” wrote Vicki Nox (@VickiNox)in a Twitter message.
“How many hospitals, homes, ambulances can be bought with ‘Sorry, we made a mistake’?” tweeted Laiza Galvão (@LaizaGalvao).
The political fallout from the Odebrecht bargain for the scandal-plagued government of President Michel Temer has yet to be felt, but the deal is expected to provide evidence implicating numerous members of his ruling PMDB party. (Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Frances Kerry)