UPDATE 1-Brazilian court freezes assets of former Petrobras CEO Gabrielli
(Adds Andrade Gutierrez response)
RIO DE JANEIRO Jan 29 (Reuters) - A Brazilian state court froze the assets of former Petrobras Chief Executive Officer Jose Sergio Gabrielli on Wednesday amid an investigation of graft and money-laundering in the government-run oil producer's contracts with construction companies.
State prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro suspect Gabrielli participated in a scheme to overbill Petrobras by 32 million reais ($12.4 million) for construction projects by local company Andrade Gutierrez SA. Gabrielli was CEO of the company formally known as Petróleo Brasileiro SA between 2005 and 2012.
The court also allowed prosecutors to access Gabrielli's tax, banking and phone records, as well as those of former Petrobras executives Renato Duque and Pedro Barusco. Duque and Barusco are being formally investigated by federal prosecutors.
Efforts to contact Gabrielli were unsuccessful while Petrobras did not respond to a request for comment.
A press representative for Andrade Gutierrez said in an email that the company had not been informed by the court and could not offer comment on the judicial decision.
The company has no involvement in the Petrobras scandal and all contracts with the oil firm were carried out within proper legal guidelines, the representative said.
The investigation of Gabrielli is just one branch of a spreading multibillion-dollar scandal that has weighed heavily on Petrobras shares.
Prosecutors say engineering firms paid bribes to win Petrobras contracts, funneling a cut of the overcharged projects to executives, vendors and political parties including Brazil's ruling Workers' Party.
A Reuters review of a 2009 federal investigation of Petrobras and interviews with those who conducted it indicate that executives at the company missed opportunities to stop the graft before it erupted into a crisis so big it could push Brazil's slow-growing economy back into recession this year.
($1 = 2.58 Brazilian reais) (Reporting by Rodrigo Viga Gaier: Writing by Asher Levine; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and James Dalgleish)
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