BRASILIA, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Prosecutors on Tuesday accused a former senior Petrobras executive of racketeering, bribery and money laundering through Switzerland and Uruguay in a widening kickback scandal that has engulfed Brazil’s state-run oil company.
Nestor Cerveró was head of international operations at Petroleo Brasileiro SA, as the company is known, from 2003 to 2008, when prosecutors say he accepted bribes to help engineering and construction firms win contracts with Brazil’s largest company.
The charges against Cerveró follow indictments in December against 39 executives, two of them senior Petrobras executives and most of the rest executives of major Brazilian construction and engineering companies. The charges against Cerveró will require a judge to endorse them before becoming an indictment.
Cerveró and the indicted executives allegedly conspired to inflate the value of billions of dollars in Petrobras contracts, kicking back the excess to Petrobras executives as bribes or campaign contributions to President Dilma Rousseff’s Workers’ Party and its allies in Congress.
The scandal has hurt Rousseff’s popularity as she begins her second term. Rousseff, who was chairwoman of Petrobras’ board of directors from 2003-2010 when much of the alleged corruption took place, has denied knowing about the scheme.
Two alleged Cerveró intermediaries, Fernando Soares and Oscar Algorta, were also charged with racketeering and money laundering, the federal prosecutors office said in a statement.
Soares, also known as “Fernando Baiano,” is a businessman and lobbyist closely associated with the Workers’ Party. He allegedly helped transfer money for Cerveró. Algorta was president of Uruguay-based Jolmey S/A, which was allegedly used to move illicit overseas funds to Cerveró in Brazil.
Authorities were also seeking to seize a penthouse apartment in Rio de Janeiro’s Ipanema beach district valued at 7.5 million reais ($2.6 million) and bank accounts of Jolmey. Jolmey owns the Ipanema apartment and rents it to Cerveró at below-market rates, the prosecutors said.
The former oil executive was arrested in January and is currently in jail.
Cerveró was charged last year with allegedly sharing with Soares $15 million in kickbacks related to the purchase of a $586 million drill ship bought from South Korean shipbuilder Samsung Heavy Industries Co Ltd.
Cerveró has denied receiving any bribes.
“The new charges are clumsy. The facts are not true,” his lawyer Edson Ribeiro said by email.
Cerveró has been under investigation since last year in connection with Petrobras’ controversial 2006 purchase of a refinery in Pasadena, Texas. ($1 = 2.8820 Brazilian reais) (Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)