Brazil seizes $327 mln in contractor assets in Petrobras scandal

viernes 15 de mayo de 2015 20:07 GYT

BRASILIA May 15 (Reuters) - Brazilian prosecutors said on Friday they have obtained court orders for the seizure of 980 million reais ($327 million) in assets of construction firms under investigation in a massive corruption scandal at state-run oil company Petrobras.

A federal court ordered the seizure of 282 million reais in assets from one of Brazil's largest construction and engineering companies, OAS, for allegedly paying bribes and political kickbacks in return for overpriced contracts with Petrobras.

It was the fifth company to face asset seizures since last month. The others are Camargo Corrêa, Galvão Engenharia, Sanko Sider and Engevix. They were given 15 days to hand over the assets.

The seizures amount to 1 percent of the contracts the companies signed with Petroleo Brasileiro S.A., as the company is formally called, plus fines for corrupt practices.

A spokesman for OAS said the company would not comment.

Federal investigators believe two dozen of Brazil's top builders formed a cartel that paid 6.2 billion reais in bribes to obtain oil industry contracts that were overpriced.

The funds were funneled into bank accounts of corrupt Petrobras executives and the coffers of political parties in the governing coalition.

So far 97 people have been indicted on charges of money laundering, corruption and forming a cartel. About 50 politicians are being investigated on suspicion of receiving kickbacks.

Petrobras has halted payments and blacklisted the implicated construction firms, several of which have filed for bankruptcy protection. The companies have had to paralyze projects and lay off workers, aggravating Brazil's economic slowdown.

Petrobras posted first-quarter results on Friday, with profit little changed from a year earlier, as an end to fuel subsidies helped overcome a plunge in crude prices.

But Petrobras also cut investment 13 percent in part due to the corruption scandal that forced the Rio de Janeiro-based company to stop paying or hiring the contractors, caused the resignation of nearly all its top executives and paralyzed much company activity since November. ($1 = 3.00 Brazilian reais) (Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Ken Wills)