UPDATE 1-Brazil suspects Esteves paid bribes in Africa deal, paper says
(Recasts to add details on Thursday's court meeting)
BRASILIA Dec 17 (Reuters) - Brazilian prosecutors suspect jailed financier André Esteves paid bribes to buy Africa-based assets from state oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA, a newspaper reported, as the country's top court mulls whether to release the billionaire banker on Thursday.
O Estado de S. Paulo said Prosecutor-General Rodrigo Janot used evidence from a plea bargain by lobbyist Fernando Soares, who linked Esteves to the payment of bribes at the state company known as Petrobras. Esteves has been in pre-trial detention at a prison in Rio de Janeiro since his arrest last month.
Estado, without saying how it obtained the information, said Janot believes Esteves and Grupo BTG Pactual SA, the bank he helped found six years ago, profited from the Africa deal and other transactions.
The lobbyist's testimony concerns Petrobras's sale of a 50 percent stake in a unit holding African assets to BTG Pactual for $1.5 billion in 2013.
The unit, renamed PetroAfrica, includes Petrobras' operations in Angola, Benin, Gabon, Namibia, Nigeria and Tanzania. It was designed as as a joint venture to explore and produce oil and gas in the region.
Esteves' lawyer, Antonio Carlos de Almeida Castro, denied the allegations. Petrobras and the Prosecutor-General's office did not immediately comment.
BTG Pactual has said that the transaction was done transparently and pledged to cooperate with authorities.
In May, officials opened a probe into PetroAfrica after opposition lawmakers said the price paid by BTG Pactual was too low. BTG Pactual presented the highest bid in a dozen proposals, with the price vetted by Petrobras' adviser Standard Chartered, according to bank and Petrobras documents. Continuación...