July 22, 2015 1:34 am
An investigation into alleged corruption at Petrobras, the Brazilian state-owned oil company, is spreading internationally, with Portugal on Tuesday announcing that it will assist Brazil in the probe.
Portugal’s decision comes on top of US and Swiss probes and follows announcements in recent weeks by Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Panama that they are also taking action in relation to the investigation.
The office of Portugal’s attorney-general said on Monday that it had received a request from Brazilian authorities for assistance in the investigation into Petrobras, which is known as Operation Car Wash. The matter had been passed on to criminal investigators for “execution”.
“The request is secret and any steps that are being made or will be made cannot be disclosed,” the prosecutor’s office said.
Brazilian prosecutors are fanning out around the world in search of further evidence to implicate the scores of politicians and former Petrobras executives and contractors allegedly involved in the case.
They believe former company officials collaborated with contractors to extract kickbacks from the company and pay bribes to politicians, with investigators zeroing in on Odebrecht, Brazil’s biggest construction company, and one of its main multinationals.
This week police formally charged the head of the company, Marcelo Odebrecht, with corruption, while a court convicted three former executives of construction group Camargo Corrêa for involvement in Car Wash. It was the first time construction executives had been convicted.
Odebrecht has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing by itself or Mr Odebrecht. It launched a fierce attack on the police charge sheet released this week, particularly its use of personal notes seized from Mr Odebrecht during police raids on his home and office that are being used as evidence. “The federal police report again attributes distorted, out-of-context and illogical interpretations to his personal notes,” the company said.
The investigation into Odebrecht has led prosecutors to former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, whom they accuse of illegal influence peddling on behalf of the construction company overseas in regions ranging from Europe to Africa.
Ex-president Lula da Silva did not ask me for any favours for any company. This didn’t happen and it wouldn’t happen, I’m convinced, neither on his part or mine
- Portuguese prime minister Pedro Passos Coelho
On Monday, Portuguese prime minister Pedro Passos Coelho was forced to deny a report in O Globo, a Brazilian newspaper, that Mr Lula da Silva had personally asked him to favour Odebrecht in a privatisation project in Portugal.
“Ex-president Lula da Silva did not ask me for any favours for any company,” said Mr Coelho. “This didn’t happen and it wouldn’t happen, I’m convinced, neither on his part or mine.”
Mr Lula da Silva vehemently denies wrongdoing while Odebrecht has said his actions were the normal advocacy conducted by national leaders on behalf of business in their countries.
Odebrecht has extensive operations throughout Latin America.
In June, Ecuador’s comptroller general, Carlos Pólit, announced audits of more than a dozen Odebrecht contracts, which include pipeline, aqueduct, hydroelectric and refinery projects as well as the expressway to Quito’s new airport.
In Colombia, Odebrecht has been awarded a contract for a $1bn dredging project on the Magdalena river and another for the second tranche of a $2bn highway.
Luis Fernando Andrade, who heads Colombia’s National Infrastructure Agency, said if Odebrecht was convicted of corruption related to its Colombian contracts, it would be banned from new Colombian government contracts.
In Peru, one of the country’s lead prosecutors, Hamilton Castro, is planning to visit Brazil’s southern city of Curitiba, the centre of the Car Wash investigation, to collect evidence on possible graft on a transcontinental highway project.
In Panama, the Panama City Metro has asked the comptroller’s office to conduct an audit of its line one project, which was jointly built by Odebrecht and Spain’s FCC. Separately, the attorney-general’s office said it had received a request for co-operation from Brazilian prosecutors.
Just before Mr Odebrecht’s arrest last month, the consortium was awarded a $1.8bn contract for a second metro line. And just 10 days after his arrest, his company was awarded a $537m contract for the urban renovation of the city of Colón.