Brazilian politicians associated with Petrobras probe again

Police have launched raids against several politicians in Brazil to secure evidence before it is destroyed

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Updated Jul 28, 2015

Brazilian police probing the giant Petrobras corruption scandal launched raids Tuesday against several politicians, including former President Fernando Collor de Mello, reportedly seizing a Ferrari and other luxury cars from his home.

The raids, aimed at securing evidence before it could be destroyed or tampered with, took place in homes and offices across seven states in the latest expansion of a kickback and bribe probe centered on the state oil company, police said.

They were ordered by the Supreme Court, the only body authorized to prosecute current politicians, and the raids involved about 250 officers, the police said, refusing to name the suspects.

Collor, who resigned as president in 1992 in a corruption scandal and is now a senator, said on Twitter that police had searched his house, denouncing what he called "a climate of terror."

Police confiscated three luxury cars - a Ferrari, a Porsche and a Lamborghini.

Collor said he had always cooperated with authorities in the Petrobras probe, which has been dubbed "Operation Car Wash" because some of the stolen money was allegedly laundered through a service station.

"The invasive manner illustrates the times we live in. In a police state, they try to break down individual rights, whether those of an ex-president, a senator of the republic or a simple citizen," he said on Twitter.

Local media reported that the three cars were from Collor's home and that other suspects included Senator Ciro Nogueira and Congressional Deputy Eduardo da Fonte, both from President Dilma Rousseff's Worker's Party (PT).

Rousseff tainted

Prosecutors accuse Petrobras executives of colluding with construction companies to inflate contracts and bribe politicians, including members of the PT and its allies.

The scandal has made a direct hit on the energy giant's accounts amounting to some $2.1 billion in losses related to the scheme, the company said in April.

That and falling oil prices have shaken Brazil's biggest company, forcing it to axe 37 percent, or $77 billion, from an ambitious five-year investment plan.

The Car Wash probe initially swept through elite business circles. Earlier this month, police arrested a fourth former high-ranking Petrobras executive.

But the political impact threatens to become just as heavy, leaving Rousseff vulnerable.

The already weakened president has not been directly implicated, but she was chairwoman of the company for seven years coinciding largely with the period of corruption, and is facing opposition threats of impeachment.

The PT's former treasurer, Joao Vaccari, was arrested in April on charges that he funneled bribes skimmed from the top of faked Petrobras contracts.

But Rousseff has vigorously denied any link to the corruption, challenging political opponents to provide proof. She has also repeatedly said over the last weeks that she will see her term through, despite turmoil in Congress and approval ratings that recently dipped as low as nine percent.

"No, I won't go," she told the newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo a week ago. "People who fall are those ready to fall and I'm not."