Powerful Brazil CEO arrested in Petrobras graft probe

Fri Jun 19, 2015 6:29pm EDT
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By Caroline Stauffer and Walter Brandimarte

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazilian police on Friday arrested Marcelo Odebrecht, the head of Latin America's largest engineering and construction company Odebrecht SA, and accused his family-run conglomerate of spearheading a $2.1 billion bribery scheme at state-run oil firm Petrobras.

Police also apprehended Otavio Marques Azevedo, CEO of Andrade Gutierrez [AGIS.UL], Brazil's second-largest builder, as the probe into corruption at Petrobras spread to the highest level of Brazilian business.

Odebrecht, Azevedo and other top executives arrested in Sao Paulo were driven to the airport in a van and flown to the southern city of Curitiba, where Brazil's largest-ever corruption scandal is being investigated.

A lead prosecutor, Carlos Fernando dos Santos Limas, said he had "no doubt" Odebrecht and Andrade Gutierrez led what he called a "cartel" that overcharged Petrobras for work and passed on the excess funds to executives and politicians.

The arrest of 46-year-old Odebrecht, who has personal ties to former President Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva, could bring the scandal closer to the political heart of the ruling Worker's Party.

"There is a larger connection between Lula and Odebrecht and we see (Odebrecht's) possible indictment as a big risk," said Cameron Combs, Latin America researcher with Eurasia Group.

President Dilma Rousseff, who ran the board of Petrobras during Lula's presidency, has denied knowledge of corruption and urged a thorough investigation. Neither she nor Lula have been implicated.

Last month federal prosecutors opened a separate investigation into whether Lula improperly used his connections to benefit Odebrecht, saying he had frequently traveled abroad at Odebrecht's expense since 2011.   Continued...

Andrade Gutierrez CEO Otavio Marques Azevedo (R) leaves the Federal Police headquarters in Sao Paulo, Brazil, June 19, 2015. REUTERS/Francio de Holanda