BRASILIA – A sister-in-law of the now-former treasurer of Brazil’s ruling Workers’ Party, or PT, who was arrested this week in connection with a massive bribery scandal centered on state-controlled oil giant Petrobras, was declared a fugitive on Thursday.
A court on Wednesday ordered the arrest of Marice Correa – a sister-in-law of the ex-PT treasurer, Joao Vaccari – but police said they were unable to locate her at her home or workplace and declared her a fugitive after 24 hours had lapsed since the warrant was issued.
Vaccari became the PT’s treasurer in 2005 after his predecessor, Delubio Soares, was implicated in a congressional vote-buying scandal that erupted during former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s 2003-2010 administration.
Vaccari is accused of soliciting irregular donations for PT political campaigns from leading Brazilian construction companies; those donations, according to police and prosecutors, stem from inflated contracts that those companies secured with Petrobras in exchange for bribes.
Authorities also are investigating a Sao Paulo print shop linked to PT-allied trade unions that may have been used to launder proceeds from the bribery and kickback scheme.
Vaccari, who was charged last month with corruption and money laundering, stepped down from his post after being arrested at his Sao Paulo home on Wednesday, the party said in a statement in which it expressed support for its former treasurer and his family.
President Dilma Rousseff, a former Petrobras chairwoman whose approval rating has plunged to around 13 percent amid the scandal, has sought to distance herself from the corruption case and has not yet commented on Vaccari’s arrest.
Thus far in the investigation, police have detained five former Petrobras executives as well as owners and executives of construction companies that had contracts with Brazil’s largest company, which represents 12 percent of Brazilian gross domestic product.
Around 50 politicians suspected of benefiting from the corruption scheme, most of them allies of Rousseff, also are under investigation, including the heads of both houses of Brazil’s Congress.
The Brazilian construction and engineering companies suspected in the scheme, which investigators say dates back more than 10 years, allegedly inflated their invoices and split the extra money with corrupt Petrobras officials, while also setting aside some of the loot to pay off politicians who provided cover for the graft.