Odebrecht pulls out of pre-bids on Panama Canal bridge

Odebrecht is filing for bankruptcy protection over debts of more than $20 billion (AFP Photo/Yasuyoshi Chiba) (AFP/File)

Panama City (AFP) - Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht has pulled out of the pre-bid qualification process to build another bridge over the Panama Canal, as part of its penalty in a bribery scandal.

Odebrecht pulled out of the process that was under way to qualify as a bidder, the Panamanian government said, heeding an order to withdraw.

According to the US Justice Department, the Brazilian company paid more than $59 million in bribes to Panama between 2010 and 2014 to obtain contracts valued at $175 million.

Panama's current government is accusing the previous administration of former president Ricardo Martinelli of involvement in Odebrecht's alleged bribery.

Two of Martinelli's sons have denied Brazilian newspaper reports that they had received $6 million intended as a bribe from Odebrecht for their father.

Martinelli, who denies the charges, lives in voluntary exile in Miami. The Panamanian government has requested his extradition on allegations of espionage and corruption.

The new six-lane bridge is expected to cost about $1 billion. Companies from China, South Korea, Italy and Spain are reportedly interested in building it.