Authorities in Brazil have seized assets and documents from top government officials in connection with the expanding Petrobras corruption investigation, adding more names to a list that already includes a number of the country’s political and economic elite.
On July 14, Brazilian police raided properties of seven Brazilian senators -- including former President Fernando Collor de Mello -- as part of the ongoing investigation into corruption at state-run oil firm Petroleo Brasileiro SA (Petrobras) known as “Operation Car Wash,” reported Clarin.
According to the BBC, the senators are suspected of accepting bribes as part of a scheme whereby profits from overpriced contracts worth billions of dollars were kicked back to Petrobras executives and politicians.
Prosecutors conducted the raids -- which were authorized by the Supreme Court -- in order to prevent evidence from being destroyed. A total of 53 search and seizures, including at residences and offices of the implicated senators, were carried out.
At the home of Collor, three luxury cars -- a Porsche, Ferrari, and Lamborghini -- were confiscated. Collor resigned as Brazil’s president in 1992 after he was impeached on corruption allegations.
The other six senators belong to the Progressive Party (PP), which forms part of the ruling coalition with President Dilma Rousseff’s Workers’ Party (PT).
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Brazilian authorities have been aggressive in their investigations into the Petrobras scandal -- which first broke in March 2014 -- and have not shied away from going after the country’s economic and political elites.
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Indeed, in June, Marcelo Odebrecht -- the CEO of Odebrecht SA, Latin America’s largest construction firm -- and Otavio Marques de Azevedo -- CEO of Andrade Gutierrez, Brazil’s second largest construction conglomerate -- were arrested on accusations of paying up to $230 million in bribes. One prosecutor involved in the arrests said he had “no doubt” the two led a “cartel” that overcharged Petrobras for work and passed on a percentage in kickbacks to executives and politicians.
Additionally, a total of 58 current and former Petrobras employees -- including managers and former directors -- have so far come under investigation.
At least 30 politicians are also being investigated, and, while President Rousseff -- who chaired Petrobras from 2003 to 2010, when much of the corruption appears to have occurred -- has avoided direct implication, the scandal continues to threaten the pinnacle of Brazil’s political elites. In particular, suspicion has circulated around her predecessor -- Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva -- and on July 16 it was announced prosecutors had opened a probe into his alleged influence peddling on behalf of Odebrecht SA.
Nonetheless, investigations show no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Indeed, commenting on these most recent police raids after a meeting with Rousseff, Lula -- rather ominously -- said, “This is just the beginning. It is going to get worse from here on out.”