RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazilian police said they arrested a former director of state-controlled oil company Petrobras and 19 other suspects on Friday, including nine construction and engineering firm executives, as part of an investigation into an alleged multi-billion-dollar kickback scheme.
The scandal was a key issue in Brazil’s recent presidential election, in which incumbent Dilma Rousseff – who served as chair of Petrobras’ board between 2003 and 2010 – won a second term in office.
As part of the extensive operation launched Friday, the Federal Police detained Renato Duque, a former director of engineering and services for Petrobras who was fired in 2012, in Rio de Janeiro.
Petrobras was allegedly at the center of a 10-billion-reais (some $3.85 billion) money-laundering and overbilling scheme and is the focal point of the Federal Police’s “Lava Jato” (Car Wash) operation, launched in March.
Two executives of engineering firm Toyo Setal Empreendimentos are aiding the investigation as part of a plea-bargain arrangement.
They and Petrobras’ jailed former refineries and supply director, Paulo Roberto Costa, who has implicated dozens of Brazilian politicians in the scandal as part of a plea-bargain deal with prosecutors, pointed the finger at Duque.
Duque oversaw some of the contracts for construction work at the Abreu e Lima refinery, a project whose cost has ballooned to more than four times the initial estimate of around $4.3 billion.
The operation launched Friday also targeted firms accused of paying bribes amounting to roughly 3 percent per contract to Petrobras between 2004 and 2012, including construction and civil engineering companies Odebrecht, Mendes Junior Engenharia, IESA and UTC Engenharia.
Authorities also froze a total of 720 million reais (some $277.2 million) in assets belonging to 36 suspects as part of Friday’s operation.