Why Brazil? Why Petrobras? Why not Odebrecht? Patterns and outcomes of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the role of the U.S. in the Car Wash Operation

Maria Paula Costa Bertran, Maria Virgínia Nabuco do Amaral Mesquita Nasser


The main objective of this paper is to describe how Brazil as a country, and Petrobras as a company, were natural candidates to a remarkable anti-corruption enforcement under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act - FCPA. Our description is based on both data and literature review. Our data reveals that non-U.S. companies and specific economic sectors, such as oil and gas, have been privileged targets under the U.S. expanded jurisdiction, granted due the FCPA. Furthermore, literature review leads us to the idea that Brazil is a capital-export country with substantial influence over Latin America and Africa – therefore providing an additional incentive to a focus on the country, as the promotion of cleaner practices in Brazil could potentially have positive trickle-down effects beyond its borders. The article expands the game-theory hypothesis developed by Griffith and Lee, as it demonstrates that remarkable foreign anti-bribery enforcements do help establish a new, expanded paradigm of anti-corruption surveillance and that Petrobras would have incentives to press for a cleaner environment. However, we conclude the same is not true about Odebrecht. Odebrecht’s fragile situation due to debarments and reputational problems, the maintenance of political extorsion in the construction market, and the role of foreign companies less embedded in the FCPA standards make Odebrecht an unlikely engine of change. Our conclusions indirectly question the Brazilian authorities' role in the so-called Car Wash Operation, as the success of the foreign anti-corruption enforcement may conceal local fragilities and overestimate its institutional readiness.


Corrupção, jurisdição extraterritorial; FCPA; Lavajato

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5102/rbpp.v12i1.7681

ISSN 2179-8338 (impresso) - ISSN 2236-1677 (on-line)

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