Brazil Officials Implicated in Petrobras Money Laundering Scandal

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Three governors and several other politicians in Brazil have been linked to a multi-billion dollar money laundering scheme allegedly involving state oil company Petrobras in a scandal that may reach the highest levels of the Brazilian government.

In his testimony as part of a plea bargain, Petrobras’ former director of refining and supply, Paulo Roberto Costa, named several politicians he claims participated in the money laundering scheme, reported Veja. The politicians include the former governors of Rio de Janeiro and Pernambuco, the current governor of Maranhão, and at least three senators.

According to O Globo, the most serious accusations have been leveled against Roseana Sarney, the governor of Maranhão, who has been accused of having ties to Alberto Youssef, the leader of the money laundering scheme that allegedly operated with the help of Costa. Evidence has emerged that Youssef also bankrolled trips for the advisors of two senators, one of whom Costa named in his testimony.

InSight Crime Analysis

The massive money laundering investigation, dubbed “Operation Car Wash,” has so far led to charges against at least 46 people for financial crimes such as illegal money transfers and money laundering. According to court documents accessed by Bloomberg, the criminal operation laundered $4.4 billion in funds from Brazilians trying to avoid paying taxes, alleged drug traffickers, and money embezzled from Petrobras.

Youssef worked as a “doleiro,” an informal foreign exchange trader who helped clients deposit their money abroad without notifying tax authorities. He allegedly collaborated with Costa to launder money through Petrobras. Both men were arrested in March.  

Although President Dilma Rousseff has not been implicated in any wrongdoing related to “Operation Car Wash,” she did serve as the Chairwoman of Petrobras from 2003 to 2010, and having her name connected with a company mired in scandal likely won’t bode well for her reelection campaign. According to a recent poll, she is trailing opponent Marina Silva in Brazil’s October elections.

Rousseff has already been criticized for her role in the 2012 purchase of an extremely overpriced Texas oil refinery, a deal that began when Rousseff was still chairwoman. Brazilian investigators are looking into whether or not the purchase of the refinery could be linked to “Operation Car Wash,” although such a link would not necessarily mean Rousseff had any knowledge of the money laundering scheme. 

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