Authorities in Brazil are investigating the possible existence of a criminal group inside state-owned oil company Petrobras that is involved in money laundering, the latest in a series of scandals to hit one of Latin America's biggest companies.
Brazilian police believe Petrobras' purchase of an overpriced Texas oil refinery in 2012 could be related to a national investigation into money laundering dubbed "Operation Car Wash."
Authorities say they have evidence to suggest the company's former director of refining and supply, Paulo Roberto Costa, acted as a go-between for money launderers and the state, reported A Tarde. Costa was arrested in March for his role in other money laundering operations, but his capture was not initially linked to the purchase of the refinery.
Petrobras recently came under fire when Brazil's Congress decided to open an investigation into the purchase of the refinery, for which the company paid $1.2 billion -- many times what the Belgian oil company they were buying from had paid several years earlier.
President Dilma Rousseff was the chairwoman of Petrobras when the deal began in 2006 and has been criticized for approving the purchase, although she claims she was acting based on erroneous information. Rousseff has not yet been implicated in any wrongdoing.
Investigators now believe that funds earmarked for the refinery purchase may have diverted, and that the deal could be linked to a "criminal organization" operating within Petrobras, which is dedicated to siphoning off funds then laundering the money through offshore accounts.
InSight Crime Analysis
Petrobras is one of the highest valued companies in Latin America, although it has entered a period of steep economic decline. In 2008, the company was the sixth largest in the world, but it has since lost half of its market value and was reportedly $114.3 billion in debt by the end of 2013. The sheer size of the company, as well as the vast sums of money it handles, can create space for criminal opportunists.
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If the money laundering allegations are true, Petrobras would not be the first of the region's state-owned oil giants to become embroiled in a criminal scandal. Mexico's oil company Pemex recently came under increased scrutiny for its ties to ADT Petroservicios, an oil services firm that reportedly laundered money for the Zetas.
In addition to the current refinery scandal, Petrobras has also been accused of accepting over $100 million in bribes from SBM Offshore NV, a Dutch company that leases oil production ships.