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Exclusive: U.S. opens probe into Brazilian oil bribery scheme - sources

Reuters 

By Gary McWilliams

(Reuters) - The is investigating a former U.S.-based oil for Brazil's already charged in his home country with taking part in a corruption scheme involving commodity companies Vitol SA, and Trafigura AG, according to people familiar with the matter.

It was the first confirmation that U.S. investigators have joined a new phase of Brazil's "Car Wash" corruption probe, which has toppled presidents in two countries and sent more than 130 politicians and to jail across

The U.S. Attorney's office for the Eastern District of is talking to Rodrigo Garcia Berkowitz, a Houston-based oil wanted on charges in for accepting millions of dollars in kickbacks for himself and others, according to one of the people familiar with the matter.

Berkowitz, 39, is cooperating with U.S. authorities in the investigation and could face charges in the United States, one of the people said, although he has not been currently charged.

Berkowitz could not be reached for comment through associates, phone or emails, and it was not immediately known what firm was representing him.

Brazilian prosecutors said executives of the commodities companies, including some in the United States, were involved in improper payments to executives at state-run Petroleo Brasileiro SA, and that Berkowitz and others worked directly with those firms.

Vitol, Glencore, Trafigura and others collectively paid at least $31 million in bribes over a six-year period to officials to secure advantages in deals, Brazilian prosecutors said.

The case signals prosecutors there are examining the U.S. arms of Vitol and others implicated by Brazilian officials, as some of those funds moved through U.S. and European systems.

Bribes paid to moved through in the United States, Britain, Sweden, and Uruguay, Brazilian authorities have said, opening an avenue for U.S. prosecutors to probe for violations of U.S. money laundering laws.

In December, Mike Loya, the of Vitol's U.S. operations, was named in Brazilian charging documents against Berkowitz and others of having full knowledge of the trading scheme. Loya has not been charged. He did not reply to requests for comment.

Assistant U.S. is handling the case, the people said. Reached by phone, Bini declined to comment, and a for the declined to comment.

Federal prosecutors in declined on Thursday to say if they were collaborating with the on the case.

Investigators from New York's Eastern District office have worked hand-in-hand with Brazilian prosecutors on the probe in the past. In late 2016, they jointly negotiated with construction firm that resulted in a $2.6 billion fine and access to company executives who could provide testimony about decades of bribes paid across

Vitol, Trafigura and Glencore declined to comment on the U.S. investigation. Vitol and Glencore reiterated past statements that they are cooperating with Brazilian authorities, and Trafigura said it takes the allegations seriously. All have been suspended from business dealings with Petrobras.

issued an red notice in early December calling Berkowitz a fugitive from prosecution and requesting his detention. The U.S. Marshals office in said this month it has not received a request to arrest Berkowitz.

U.S. authorities two months ago arrested Luiz Eduardo Loureiro Andrade, a Brazilian businessman, over allegations he funneled bribes to Petrobras officials from Vitol and others, according to documents.

Andrade, Berkowitz and nine others were charged in Brazil in December with allegations they funneled business to Vitol and other trading firms between 2011 and 2014. Andrade could not be located to request comment.

(Reporting by Gary in Houston; additional reporting by in Sao Paulo and Julia Payne in London; editing by and Grant McCool)

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Fri, February 08 2019. 02:12 IST
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