CURITIBA, Brazil, June 24 (Reuters) - Brazilian federal police are investigating foreign companies that may have paid bribes to obtain contracts with state-run oil firm Petrobras but were not part of a suspected cartel of local engineering firms, an agent said on Wednesday.
Federal agent Erika Marena told Reuters there is “clear indication” that in order to win contracts foreign firms “directed bribes to Petrobras or Petrobras executives.”
But by stopping short of holding those foreign firms responsible for running a cartel, Marena’s comments suggest police are building their toughest case against the Brazilian industrial conglomerates whose executives have been jailed.
A lead prosecutor in the case, Carlos Fernando dos Santos Lima, told Reuters on Tuesday more than a dozen foreign firms were suspected of corruption, including South Korea’s Samsung Heavy Industries Co Ltd, Swedish builder Skanska AB , Danish oil and shipping group Maersk and British engineer Rolls-Royce Holdings.
Lima and Marena said several foreign companies have offered to collaborate, anxious to keep their names clean.
The Maersk Group reiterated in a statement its policy of working against corruption. The other companies named by Lima have declined to comment on the case.
“Sadly this method of getting money by some people in public service will be found in other state-run firms,” she said. There is “no doubt” state-run electric utility Eletrobras was a victim in the scheme as well as Petrobras, she said.
Eletrobras said it had not had access to the investigation but had hired a law firm this month to do an internal audit.
Defense lawyers have criticized the investigation and especially the federal judge responsible, Sergio Moro, for allowing lengthy pre-trial detention of executives, including the chief executive of Odebrecht SA, arrested on Friday.
Odebrecht, Latin America’s largest construction firm, has questioned the evidence used to justify the arrests.
Moro had to throw out one piece of evidence involving a $300,000 transfer into an overseas account controlled by Barusco when Odebrecht said it was actually a bond sale.
Marena said that particular piece alone “did not back up” the investigation and said police were looking at other overseas accounts in which Barusco and another former Petrobras executive Paulo Roberto Costa reported receiving bribes from Odebrecht.
“There is no limit to where this investigation could go,” Marena said. (Reporting by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Andrew Hay)