New plea deals as Brazil's Petrobras corruption probe advances
By Caroline Stauffer
SAO PAULO Aug 14 (Reuters) - More defendants are negotiating and signing plea bargain deals in a massive bribery case focused on Brazil's state-run oil firm Petrobras as federal prosecutors prepare charges against higher-profile suspects, including politicians.
Petrobras' former head of corporate services Renato Duque and Fernando Soares, a lobbyist who helped firms win drillship contracts with Petrobras and is accused of funneling bribes to the Brazil Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), are among those negotiating deals, lawyers for both defendants said.
More than 100 people have been indicted, the country's most powerful engineering executives detained and dozens of lawmakers implicated in the case with prosecutors relying heavily on plea bargain deals, a relatively new legal tool in Brazil, to expand their investigation.
The push to keep building a stronger list of potential witnesses signals that prosecutors have their eye on even higher-level suspects in the price fixing and political kickback scheme.
"Prosecutors are both building a case against people higher up the political food chain, and seeking to increase the likelihood that those executives already implicated will receive definitive jail sentences," said Matthew Taylor, an expert on Brazil's legal system at American University.
President Dilma Rousseff is not being investigated and has supported the probe, but it has ensnared senior members of her Workers' Party and its allies. Combined with a weak economy, it has also pushed her approval ratings down into single digits.
She served as chairwoman of the board of Petroleo Brasileiro SA, as Petrobras is formally known, from 2003 to 2010 when much of the alleged graft took place.
Prosecutors are expected to present charges against dozens of lawmakers and former ministers they have been investigating since March in coming weeks. Continuación...