Brazilian prosecutors have expanded the sweeping "Lava Jato" investigation into corruption at state oil firm Petrobras, and are now looking at two alleged kickback schemes involving foreign shipping firms.
In the first case, prosecutors allege that a high-ranking Brazilian politician accepted over $400,000 in bribes from Florida-based asphalt ship operator Sargeant Marine. The politician, Candido Vaccarezza, allegedly helped Sargeant to secure contracts with Petrobras worth a total of $180 million. Brazilian police have issued warrants for the arrest of a Sargeant representative, Luiz Eduardo Loureiro Andrade, and for two former managers at Petrobras. Vaccarezza is already under arrest; his lawyers denied the charges.
Sargeant joined with Vitol to form joint enteriprise Valt, one of the world's largest asphalt traders, in March 2016. The alleged actions all predate the JV.
On Monday, Florida-based shipping magnate Harry Sargeant III issued a statement emphasizing his non-involvement and non-ownership of Sargeant Marine. “Sargeant Marine, the entity recently ensnared in the Brazilian Car Wash graft probe, was and is a company owned, controlled, and operated by my father and brothers. I have had no ownership of or involvement in the business and affairs of Sargeant Marine including without limitation any conduct associated with the Brazilian transactions forming part of the "Lava Jato" probe. While I have no involvement whatsoever in this company, I am prepared to cooperate fully with the Brazilian and other authorities in connection with their ongoing investigation,” he said.
Separately, the prosecutors allege that six Greek tanker companies paid millions of dollars in bribes to Brazilian civil servants and politicians, using a London-based ship-broking firm, a series of offshore accounts and a Greek diplomat as a conduit. In return, these officials allegedly helped the six shipping firms to secure a combined $500 million in Petrobras contracts from 2009-2013. The allegations stem from evidence uncovered in earlier phases of the Lava Jato investigation.
The companies implicated include Olympic Agencies, Perosea Shipping, Tsakos Agean Dynacom, Dorian Hellas and Galbraiths. On Friday, Brazilian police arrested six suspects and brought an additional 11 individuals in for questioning in connection with these charges.
"These new operations send a clear message: foreign companies will not be spared in the Lava Jato [investigation]," said prosecutor Athayde Ribiero Costa. "Many multinationals have a tradition of cooperating with the investigations, but it is a shame that several of them have not acted proactively to investigate the facts . . . Maybe they did not realize that the history of Brazilian impunity [does not apply] to Lava Jato."