U.S. Charges Ex-Meinl Bank Executives in Odebrecht Laundering Scheme

Published: 28 May 2021

Odebrecht BuildingBrazillian construction company Odebrecht. (Photo: Jeso Carneiro, Flickr, License)

By Julett Pineda Sleinan

U.S. prosecutors charged two former executives from the defunct Meinl Bank with money laundering related to an international bribery scheme involving the Brazillian construction company Odebrecht.

Their indictment was unsealed on Tuesday, charging Meinl’s former CEO Peter Weinzierl and former officer Alexander Waldstein. The two Austrian bankers reportedly helped launder hundreds of millions of dollars through the U.S. financial system on behalf of Odebrecht in order to pay bribes to public officials worldwide and defraud Brazilian tax authorities.

Between 2006 and 2016, Weinzierl and Waldstein exploited their executive roles at Meinl and at a bank in Antigua, in which they both served as board members, to launder money in exchange for substantial fees.

British police arrested Weinzierl, 55, in the United Kingdom at the request of U.S. authorities. Waldstein, 73, remains at large.

The Austrian banking executives allegedly engaged in fraudulent transactions and agreements to funnel more than US$170 million from Odebrecht’s bank accounts in New York to offshore company bank accounts.

The Brazilian conglomerate secretly owned and controlled these accounts and used them to evade more than $100 million in taxes, the US Department of Justice said.

Odebrecht allegedly used the money it kept in Antiguan bank accounts to bribe foreign officials. Similarly, Weinzierl and Waldstein used the illicit money to purchase U.S. Treasury securities and corporate stocks and bonds.

In 2016, Odebrecht pleaded guilty before a court in New York and admitted taking part in a massive bribing scheme dating back to, at least, 2001 that stretches its tentacles across Latin America, Africa and Europe. Months later, the company agreed to pay a $2.6 billion fine to Brazil, Switzerland, and the United States.

Vienna-based Meinl Bank changed its name into Anglo Austrian Bank before it filed for bankruptcy more than a year ago after getting caught in multiple scandals involving financial crimes.

The European Central Bank revoked its license in November 2019, shortly before an OCCRP investigation revealed that businessmen across Eastern Europe used Meinl to siphon hundreds of millions of dollars from other banks in Ukraine, Lithuania and Latvia.

Meinl recently saw itself involved in another case tied to Argentina's former president, Mauricio Macri. An OCCRP investigation suggests that the Austrian bank acted against its interests and bought off debt from an insolvent public institution after signing a secret agreement with one of Argentina’s most powerful families.