Vitol Recordings Expand Brazilian Oil Bribery Probe

(Reuters, 20.Oct.2020) — Brazilian police expanded a long-running corruption probe at state-controlled oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA based in part on secret recordings made by a former executive of Swiss trading firm Vitol SA, according to court documents released on Tuesday.

Police on Tuesday served warrants seeking documents from six people and two companies as part of what is known as the Car Wash investigation into bribery to win contracts to buy and resell Petrobras fuel.

Petrobras said in an e-mailed response it only learned of Tuesday’s warrants after the police operation was made public. Petrobras said it was a victim of corrupt employees and that it has cooperated with authorities, providing information that led to the search warrants.

Prosecutors have alleged at least 12 million reais ($2.14 million) were paid between 2005 and 2015 to Petrobras employees working in Houston, London and Singapore.

The search warrants were approved based in part on tape recordings and other information provided by Marcio Dutra Goncalves, a former Vitol executive in Brazil, Judge Gabriela Hardt wrote in authorizing the police search warrants.

“Documentation submitted by Marcio Dutra, together with his collaborative statements, indicates that privileged information were shared at least between 24/10/2005 and 26/11/2014, and would contain the schedule and details of import and export operations by Petrobras,” the judge wrote.

Dutra, who was Vitol’s Brazil chief executive in 2013, is cooperating with prosecutors in exchange for leniency, the court said.

Dutra did not respond to messages left on a mobile phone or email included in court documents.

Vitol declined to comment on Tuesday. In the past, it has said it has a zero tolerance policy for bribery and corruption.

Tuesday’s probe expands the reach of authorities’ investigations from oil and bunker fuel trades at Petrobras’s offices in Houston and Rio de Janeiro to diesel and jet fuel there and in Europe and Asia.

No new criminal charges were brought on Tuesday.

The investigation into alleged kickbacks spans trades across four continents. Car Wash began in 2014 when a money laundering scheme was discovered at a gas station in Brazil’s capital, Brasilia, that led to top executives at Petrobras.

Some of the former Petrobras employees and middle men cited in previous phases of the investigation targeting trading firms have pleaded guilty and are cooperating with authorities in exchange for reduced sentences, Reuters has previously reported.

The transactions being reviewed involved 3.3 billion liters of fuel, prosecutors said in a statement on Tuesday.

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By Sabrina Valle