UPDATE 2-Brazil uncovers multibillion-dollar tax fraud at Finance Ministry

jueves 26 de marzo de 2015 17:18 GYT

(Adds raid on Banco Safra)

By Anthony Boadle

BRASILIA, March 26 (Reuters) - Brazilian authorities on Thursday said they uncovered a tax fraud scheme at the Finance Ministry's tax appeals board that may have cost taxpayers up to 19 billion reais ($5.96 billion).

The news came in the midst of a multibillion-dollar corruption scandal at state oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA , known as Petrobras, that has rattled Brazil's political establishment and weighed on the fragile economy.

In the latest case, federal police inspector Marlon Cajado said companies bribed members of the CARF, a body within the Finance Ministry that hears appeals on tax disputes, to get favorable rulings that reduced or waived the amounts owed.

Cajado said 70 industrial, agricultural, civil engineering and financial companies, including banks, were being investigated on suspicion of bribing tax officials.

Early on Thursday, police raided the offices of the tax appeals board in Brasilia, and the homes and offices of tax consultants and lawyers suspected of acting as intermediaries.

They also raided the headquarters of Banco Safra SA , Brazil's eighth largest bank, owned by Lebanese-Brazilian billionaire Joseph Safra and his family, according to two sources with knowledge of the situation.

So far, investigators have detected suspect appeals rulings that cost the state 5 billion reais in tax evasion and are probing other cases that could raise the total to 19 billion reais, Brazil's tax agency said in a statement.   Continuación...