Former Ecuador comptroller arrested in Miami on federal money-laundering charges

Mar 30, 2022 | 13 comments

Former Ecuador comptroller Carlos Polit was arrested Monday in Miami on charges of money-laundering. The former official, who lives in a luxury high-rise on the Miami River, was convicted in absentia in Ecuador in 2018 for extorting millions of dollars from Brazilian engineering firm Odebrecht S.A.

Former Ecuador comptroller Carlos Polit

U.S. attorneys say the the Miami and Ecuadorian cases are related.

Polit’s comptroller position, which was created to combat the fraudulent use of government funds, required him to sign off on public budgets that authorities say enabled him to demand $8 million in bribes from Odebrecht. The giant engineering firm is at the center of public corruption scandals extending from South America to the United States.

Polit was Ecuador comptroller from 2010 to 2017 during the administration of former president Rafael Correa, also a fugitive from Ecuadorian justice, currently living in Belgium.

Polit, 72, is charged in a money-laundering conspiracy indictment during his first appearance in Miami federal court on Tuesday. He is being held at the Federal Detention Center and has a pretrial bond hearing on Friday. His arraignment is pending. He also faces an extradition request by Ecuador for failing to appear at his trial in Quito.

Prosecutors Michael Berger and Alexander Kramer said they would seek to detain Polit behind bars before his trial but indicated they might be open to a possible bond arrangement. Based on his history of fleeing Ecuador, they say Polit poses a flight risk. His defense attorney, Fernando Tamayo, told Magistrate Judge Jacqueline Becerra that “we’re working on a bond package that is acceptable to the government.”

According to the indictment, Polit is accused of conspiring with a relative, an Odebrecht executive and an unnamed Ecuadorian businessman in transferring ill-gotten bribery payments from the engineering firm through a series of shell companies and bank accounts in South Florida between 2011 and 2017.

The indictment says Polit “solicited and received bribe payments” from the Odebrecht senior manager “in exchange for using his official position and influence as comptroller of Ecuador to prevent the imposition of large fines on Odebrecht by the comptroller’s office relating to Odebrecht’s construction projects.”

Polit was paid $8 million by the unidentified executive “to influence official actions by the Ecuador comptroller’s office in order to benefit Odebrecht and its business in Ecuador,” according to the indictment. Polit told the Odebrecht executive that he used another co-conspirator, an unnamed relative, “to make the cash ‘disappear,’” the indictment says.

The case, investigated by U.S. Homeland Security, is built upon an electronic trail of financial records and cooperating witnesses. Three years ago,  the Miami Herald and other news media collaborated on an investigative project that zeroed in on Odebrecht’s parallel off-books accounting system.

Leaked documents showed links between Polit’s Miami-based son, John Christopher Polit, and a U.S. shell company, Ventures Overseas LLC, which became a pass-through for the alleged bribery payments by Odebrecht.

John Polit, a former securities broker in Miami, was also convicted in Ecuador of being an accomplice in connection with his father’s case but his conviction was overturned in 2020 and he has not been charged in his father’s federal case in Miami.

The Polits were the focus of a Miami Herald investigation in 2019 that showed the son had taken out mortgages on several pricey properties in the Miami area, including a luxury home in Cocoplum, that had earlier been purchased outright.

Venture Overseas was at the end of a chain of financial transfers between anonymous shell companies that began with one controlled by Odebrecht S.A. called Kleinfeld Services. Company officials have admitted Kleinfeld was one of several used in an off-books accounting system called Drousys that was used to pay bribes in exchange for public works contracts.

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