Brazilian federal police arrested on Thursday the former director for Petrobras’s international division as part of an expanding graft probe that may have cost the state-controlled oil company more than initial estimates.
Jorge Zelada, who ran the division at Petroleo Brasileiro SA from 2008 through 2012, was part of a small group of top executives who allegedly took payments from suppliers to inflate contracts and restrict competition, Prosecutor Carlos Lima told reporters from Curitiba, Brazil, where the case is before a judge. Zelada’s lawyer Eduardo Moraes didn’t return a telephone call seeking comment.
With Zelada’s arrest, four past members of the Petrobras executive management team have been arrested in the scandal, known as Carwash because police discovered a service station was used to launder cash early in the probe. Petrobras’s initial estimate of 6.2 billion reais ($2 billion) in bribes through the scheme is conservative and may rise, Lima said. Zelada allegedly sent illicit funds to accounts in Monaco and China.
“That was the principal focus of the investigation,” Lima told reporters about the former senior executives taken into custody since March 2014. “We have strong indications that there were problems in the international area.”
Apart from arresting Zelada, police also carried out four searches and seizures Thursday in Rio de Janeiro and Niteroi, a neighboring city to the state capital.
Petrobras says it was hoodwinked by a few of its employees who allegedly took bribes from a cartel of construction companies and shared the proceeds with politicians who had allegedly helped them rise through the ranks of the offshore producer. Lima said Petrobras has shown interest in collaborating in the investigation.