THE bribery affair centred on Petrobras, Brazil’s state-controlled oil company, has already shaken that country. The petrolão (“big oily”), as the scandal is known, has landed bosses of its largest construction conglomerates in jail and helped topple Brazil’s president. Now it is causing earthquakes abroad.

On December 21st America’s Department of Justice (DoJ) reached a $3.5bn settlement with Odebrecht, Brazil’s biggest builder, and with Braskem, a petrochemical joint venture between that firm and Petrobras. The DoJ alleges that since 2001 Odebrecht and Braskem paid $788m in bribes to officials and political parties in Brazil and in 11 other countries. Most of these are in Latin America.

They include Venezuela, Mexico, Argentina and the Dominican Republic (see chart). Two Portuguese-speaking African countries—Angola and Mozambique—are also on the list.

The payoffs brought Odebrecht and Braskem contracts for around 100 projects, many of them to build public infrastructure. Often, governments paid more for the work than they needed to.

The DoJ alleges that Odebrecht set up a “Division of Structured Operations”, which “effectively functioned as a stand-alone bribe department”. The American investigators say that the companies’ top brass, including Marcelo Odebrecht, the conglomerate’s former boss and grandson of its founder, not only knew all about the scheme but authorised it. He is now serving a 19-year jail sentence in Brazil for his role in the Petrobras scandal.

The settlement is the biggest yet under America’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). It is more than double the previous record: $1.6bn paid by Siemens, a German engineering giant, in 2008. Half of that was paid under a separate resolution with German authorities. The DoJ’s settlement with Odebrecht and Braskem includes at least 5.3 bn reais ($1.6bn) that Odebrecht had already agreed to pay Brazil’s state treasury in exchange for leniency and continued access to public contracts. (The American authorities are taking for themselves a fraction of the fines paid by the two companies.)

Odebrecht has accepted that the appropriate fine for the company is $4.5bn but says it can only afford $2.6bn; the remaining $900m is owed by Braskem.

The FCPA, enacted in 1977, applies to any company that has issued securities in America (as Braskem has) and to firms that have used American banks (which both did). For a long time it was feebly enforced. That changed about a decade ago, as the Siemens case demonstrated. The DoJ’s investigation of Odebrecht and Braskem suggests that its co-operation with authorities in other countries has stepped up a gear.

The DoJ’s account of the settlement does not name officials who took the bribes in the dozen Latin American and African countries. It will be up to prosecutors and judges in those countries to pursue the corrupt officials through the courts, a process that is more likely to happen in countries where the judiciary is independent. The authorities in the 11 newly named countries “must now act on this information”, said José Ugaz, the chairman of Transparency International, an anti-corruption NGO, in a statement.

Even in Brazil the settlement is unlikely to be the end of the saga. As a company with securities traded in New York, Braskem can expect civil suits from aggrieved investors. Odebrecht is a shadow of its former self. To survive the investigations, it has been retrenching. Over the past three years the company has reportedly laid off 100,000 of its 181,000 employees, most of them since the launch of the Petrobras investigation in March 2014. Odebrecht is disposing of assets to refocus on construction, which accounts for a third of sales. In October it sold its water-and-sanitation business to a Canadian investment fund for 2.8bn reais. Even Odebrecht’s stake in Braskem, which makes up half of the construction firm’s revenues, may be up for sale. That is quite a comedown for a company named in 2010 by a Swiss business school as the world’s best family-run firm.