The Washington State Investment Board, which oversees $141.8 billion for 17 state retirement plans, can move forward with a lawsuit that seeks to recover millions of dollars from a soured investment in a Brazilian conglomerate that was discovered to be engaged in an international bribery scandal of unprecedented scale.
The company, Odebrecht, was the target of a fraud probe by the Department of Justice that resulted in a $4.5 billion plea deal in 2016.
The feds found Odebrecht created a “secret, elaborate financial structure” to pay $788 million in bribes to South and Central American officials. In exchange, officials funneled billions in government contracts to the company.
The Washington State Investment Board (WSIB) purchased 163 million units of Odebrecht bonds with yields of 4.375% to 8.25% between 2012 and 2015, according to court filings.
Since Odebrecht’s misdeeds have come to light, the bonds’ value has plummeted, generating losses of tens of millions of dollars for the pension board, it said in the lawsuit.
The pension fund, which did not immediately return a question on how much it paid for the bonds, alleges Odebrecht’s corrupt practices artificially inflated the bonds’ value.
“Unbeknownst to the public or the Company’s investors, the secret to Odebrecht’s success and its financial results was not its negotiating prowess or capabilities, but instead a massive bribery and kickback scheme involving hundreds of millions of dollars in illicit payments that it used to secure its government contracts,” the pension board wrote in its complaint.
The pension fund’s case, filed in 2017 in the Southern District of New York, has suffered years of delay. Odebrecht initially argued that an American courtroom was an inappropriate venue for the trial, then requested a stay while bankruptcy proceedings wound to a close.
But at the end of October, the judge in the case ruled that it could proceed. No filings have been made since.
The pension fund is asking for a jury trial, and an award of damages. It’s unclear how much it can expect to recoup: Of the $4.5 billion fine leveled by the feds, Odebrecht said it only had the assets to pay $2.6 billion.
With returns for its largest trust fund averaging 8.75% since inception, WSIB is one of the best-performing pension funds in the nation.