Petrobras scandal: Brazilian politicians among 54 who got R40bn in payola

A Brazilian prosecutor on Tuesday asked the Supreme Court to investigate 54 people, including a clutch of politicians, over a deepening graft case that has rocked Petrobras, the nation’s largest corporation. The growing scandal, which investigators have dubbed Operation Car Wash, concerns kickbacks estimated at $3.8 billion at Petrobras, a state-owned oil giant.

The crisis has become a major headache for President Dilma Rousseff — who chaired the Petrobras board from 2003 to 2010, much of the period when the scheme allegedly operated — and her increasingly embattled government. “There have been 28 requests for new investigation files… which involve 54 people,” a spokesman for prosecutor general Rodrigo Janot told AFP.

The spokesman initially had indicated that all 54 were politicians — meaning they would have immunity — but later clarified only some were, while the rest had connections to lawmakers. The names of those who will be placed under investigation if the court gives the go-ahead will not be revealed for the time being.

Globo quoted the Estado de S. Paulo newspaper as reporting Janot had given investigators the names of 28 politicians supposedly involved in the scheme, including several former ministers, current and former state governors and Congressmen. Those fingered in the media over recent months have all denied wrongdoing.

List of names 

Federal prosecutors indicate some two dozen companies, chiefly top construction firms, paid massively over the odds for service contracts with Petrobras with up to three percent creamed off in corrupt payments to politicians, mainly government allies. Brazil’s public prosecution service last month urged the firms caught up in the decade-long scandal to pay $1.5 billion in damages as well as yet-to-be-specified fines.

Authorities are questioning a number of former Petrobras and construction firm executives after one former executive at the oil firm blew the whistle on the scheme a year ago. He is seeking a plea bargain with investigators. Some of those questioned by police as they seek to have their potential sentences reduced say the kickbacks were paid into politicians’ personal bank accounts or into party coffers.

The list of names handed over to the Supreme Court by Janot opens a new phase in the investigation given the potential ramifications for lawmakers, while Petrobras itself has seen its reputation take a dive. Last week, Moody’s rating agency downgraded the company’s stock into junk territory — a fourth downgrade in as many months with Petrobras not just embroiled in the kickbacks fallout but having failed to release verified 2014 earning results.

The firm says it will do so only in May and says it will have to cut back its investment budget for this year by $10 billion.

Reputation, shares dive

Petrobras, the largest company in the world’s seventh-largest economy, once was considered one of Brazil’s most prestigious businesses. Its stock has plunged and the share price has dropped by around two-thirds — or around $250 billion — since the scandal broke. According to the authorities, a total of 150 people and 232 firms are under investigation while around $69 billion worth of assets belonging to those accused have been frozen. The scandal has been particularly damaging for Rousseff, who was re-elected only last October. The company’s chief executive recently resigned, along with the entire board of directors. But its new CEO Aldemir Bendine — a former bank executive who is seen as close to Rousseff’s Workers’ Party — has so far not succeeded in winning back market support.

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