Petrobras: Over 300 Swiss Bank Accounts

Brazilian protesters

By MarEx 2015-03-18 20:57:52

Almost a million Brazilians took to the streets last weekend demanding the impeachment of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff over allegations of corruption and financial mismanagement.

Rousseff is coming under increasing pressure as the latest developments in the Petrobras scandal unfold: Swiss prosecutors have uncovered over 300 accounts at more than 30 Swiss banks that they suspect are linked to the state-run oil company’s massive corruption and money-laundering scandal.

Switzerland has frozen roughly $400 million in Swiss accounts in the investigation and has begun to return an initial $120 million to Brazilian officials, Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber said at a news conference in Brasilia.

The beneficiaries of the suspect accounts, which are mostly in the name of companies domiciled in Switzerland, are senior Petrobras executives, suppliers, financial intermediaries and Brazilian or other foreign companies that allegedly paid bribes, the attorney general's office said in a statement.

"We do not tolerate the misuse of the Swiss financial system with corruption or money laundering," Lauber said.

The scandal, involving billions of dollars in kickbacks allegedly skimmed from overpriced contracts with Petrobras, has triggered anti-government protests and calls for the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, who was chairwoman of Petrobras' board when much of the alleged graft occurred.

Swiss investigators are looking into eight Brazilians in connection with the Petrobras probe, as well as others as yet unidentified people, it said.

"The release of over $120 million reflects Switzerland's clear intention to take a stand against the misuse of its financial centre for criminal purposes and to return funds of criminal origin to their rightful owners," the statement said.

Brazilian prosecutors have secured commitments for the return of 500 million reais ($154 million) siphoned off of Petrobras contracts through plea bargain deals with suspects charged with corruption, racketeering and money-laundering. They said 182 million reais ($56 million) had been received so far.

The year-old investigation has so far led to 20 indictments of 103 people on racketeering, bribery and money laundering charges, including three former Petrobras senior managers and executives from six of Brazil's leading construction and engineering firms.

Rousseff denies knowledge of kickbacks

Rousseff has denied knowledge of the kickback scheme at Petrobras and has urged a thorough investigation and punishment of those found responsible. On Wednesday she unveiled measure to fight corruption in Brazil.

Her anti-corruption proposals, contained in bills submitted to Congress, include the criminalization of slush funds - known in Portuguese as "Caixa 2" - that are widely used by Brazil's political parties to finance their campaigns.

Other steps would hasten the seizure of assets from people convicted of corruption and from government officials who accumulate wealth out of proportion with their income.

As part of the anti-corruption drive, Rousseff also signed a decree implementing an anti-bribery law passed more than a year ago that stiffens fines for companies but has not been applied for a lack of finalized rules.

Rousseff said she would not brush the latest corruption scandal under the carpet and sought to divert criticism.

"I'm sure all Brazilians of good faith, even those who did not vote for me, know that corruption in Brazil was not invented recently," she said in a speech.

Many Brazilians, however, hold her responsible. On Sunday, about 1 million people took to the streets of Brazil's largest cities in anti-government protests triggered by the Petrobras scandal and discontent over economic stagnation.