June 13, 2017 / 7:02 PM / a year ago

Brazil graft probe targets former head of Petrobras

RIO DE JANEIRO, June 13 (Reuters) - A judge in Brazil has ordered a corruption investigation against Aldemir Bendine, the former head of state-run oil company Petrobras, according to a court document released Tuesday.

Federal judge Sergio Moro also found Sergio Cabral, a former governor of Rio de Janeiro state, guilty on corruption and money laundering charges and sentenced him to over 14 years in prison.

Investigators allege that while Bendine was at the head of Petrobras, he asked for and received 3 million reais ($907,770) in bribes from construction firm Odebrecht SA.

Bendine was tapped by former president Dilma Rousseff to lead Petroleo Brasileiro SA, known as Petrobras, in early 2015, after the public learned about the sprawling “Car Wash” corruption investigation.

Moro’s order suggests corruption may have continued at Petrobras while the Car Wash probe investigated construction firms for paying billions of dollars in kickbacks to politicians and former executives at the oil company in return for lucrative contracts.

Bendine’s lawyers, Bottini and Tamasauskas Advogados, said in an emailed statement that he never received any bribe while at Petrobras or when he was head of state-run Banco do Brasil.

Petrobras did not respond to requests for comment.

The accusation against Bendine is based on plea-bargain testimony from Odebrecht’s imprisoned former chief executive Marcelo Odebrecht, who testified Bendine was paid in return for helping his company win contracts.

Odebrecht is among several firms that have admitted guilt and reached leniency deals during the three-year probe, which has expanded to include alleged graft at several other state-run enterprises.

Odebrecht’s media office said in an emailed response that it was fully cooperating with authorities on all investigations, as the leniency deal the company signed demands.

Bendine resigned from the helm of Petrobras in May 2016 after the impeachment of Rousseff.

Federal prosecutors late last year accused Cabral of leading a criminal organization they say took 224 million reais in bribes from construction firms in exchange for infrastructure contracts from 2007 to 2014, when he was serving as governor.

Cabral was specifically found guilty of receiving 2.7 million reais in bribes from construction firm Andrade Gutierrez that was paid in exchange for the company winning building contracts for a petrochemical complex in Rio, according to a court document.

During his trial, Cabral said he did not receive the bribe. Andrade Gutierrez said it would not comment on the case.

Cabral, who faces nine other corruption trials, will appeal the verdict, said Rodrigo Roca, one of his lawyers.

$1 = 3.3048 reais Reporting by Pedro Fonseca in Rio de Janeiro,; additional reporting by Brad Brooks in Sao Paulo; Editing by Andrew Hay

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