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22:47, 27 May 2018 Sunday
10:02, 20 September 2014 Saturday

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Former head of Brazilian oil giant admits taking bribe

A former director of the state-run oil firm Petrobras tells a political corruption investigation he received a bribe of 1.5 million reais, a news outlet reports.

World Bulletin / News Desk

The jailed former head of the state-run oil giant here said he received a bribe of 1.5 million Brazilian reais as part of a corruption scheme, according to a top national news outlet.

Paulo Roberto Costa, who was arrested in March as part of an investigation into money laundering, said he received the bribe – around US$636,000 at Friday's exchange rate – in a kickback scheme involving Petrobas’ purchase of the Pasadena oil refinery in the U.S. state of Texas.

The report was broadcast on Brazil's flagship Jornal Naciona news program late Thursday.

Costa is helping federal prosecutors with their investigation as part of a plea bargain he hopes will reduce his sentence, and has already named dozens of key political figures, including members of Congress, governors and a serving minister, as having participated in the scheme, according to local reports.

Legal experts say a reduced sentence will only been considered if Costa can prove his allegations and helps to recover the funds diverted from Petroleo Brasileiro SA, as the company is formally known.

It has been reported that those involved in the scheme received a 3 percent cut in third-party company contracts while Costa was at the helm. The cash is alleged to have been used to sway votes in Congress.

The allegations center on two purchases made by the oil film: the Pasadena refinery in Texas, and another in the city of Recife, in northeast Brazil, which was under construction while Costa was director.

Costa refused to answer lawmakers' questions Wednesday after being summoned to give evidence during a public congressional inquiry.

The case is particularly sensitive for President Dilma Rousseff for many reasons, including that a number of those named by Costa as being involved are politically aligned to her electoral coalition. Rival politicians, however, are also allegedly embroiled in the scandal.

Rousseff was also on the Petrobras board of directors during the Pasadena purchase in 2006. The refinery was bought for $1.2 billion, despite reports that a Belgian company paid a far smaller sum, $42.5 million, for the facility in 2005.

Rousseff denies knowledge of the alleged scheme and has publicly vowed to investigate corrupt politicians.

Petrobras has witnessed a steady wilting of its financial fortunes since Rousseff took office as president in 2011, and is now one of the world's most indebted oil companies.

It is the second major political corruption scandal to hit Rousseff's Workers' Party since it has been in power. The first, known as the "mensalão," or "big monthly payout", took place during the presidency of Rousseff's political mentor, party colleague and predecessor, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. In that scheme, members of the ruling party's multi-coalition received more than $12,000 per month in exchange for congressional support.

Lula denied knowledge of the scheme and was never implicated in the criminal activity. He left government politically unscathed despite a lengthy, high-profile trial.

​Local media have frequently referred to Costa as a "ticking time-bomb" given the potentially damaging details he could yet reveal. Commentators say a presidential campaign could be derailed if accusations directly involving a candidate were to surface.

Despite the scandal being so close to home, recent polls ahead of next month’s elections have not produced evidence that it has dented Rousseff's re-election campaign.

A new poll by Datafolha published Friday showed Rousseff has extended her lead to seven points over Brazilian Socialist Party candidate Marina Silva in a first-round vote.

Rousseff was up one percentage point on the previous poll in the series, to 37 percent, whereas Silva dropped three points to 30 percent. Aécio Neves, the Social Democracy Party's candidate and market favorite, also clawed back some support, up two points to 17 percent.

In a simulation of the now highly-likely runoff between Rousseff and Silva, the gap between the two candidates shrank to two points, with Silva at 46 percent to Rousseff’s 44 percent, a technical tie given the poll's error of margin of plus or minus two percentage points.

Silva had previously surged in the poll after she entered the race in dramatic fashion as a replacement for candidate Eduardo Campos, who was killed in an Aug. 13 plane crash.

Rousseff has since recovered ground, however, focusing her attacks on Silva, depicting the environmental and cleaner politics campaigner's proposals as likely to make the poor worse-off, and allow the rich to prosper.

The congressional representation enjoyed by Rousseff's electoral coalition also means she is allotted far more free advertising airtime on national television and radio under Brazil’s election rules. This leaves Silva suffering from a relative lack of national exposure.

A sample of 5,340 eligible voters were surveyed by Datafolha in 265 municipalities on Sept. 17-18.

Voters head to the polls Oct. 5 and if no candidate crosses the 50 percent threshold, a runoff between the two top candidates will be held Oct. 26.



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