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In the latest installment of long-running corruption investigation Operation Car Wash, an ex-oil trader for Brazil’s state energy giant Petrobras has agreed to plead guilty to charges of money laundering at a U.S. district court, Reuters reports, citing court documents.
The scandal was the biggest in Brazil’s history and led to the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff and prison sentences for high-ranking business executives from various industries. The large-scale investigation revealed that Petrobras and other companies—including commodity trading heavyweights Vitol, Trafigura, and Glencore—took part in a scheme that involved syphoning funds from Petrobras, among others, through fake business deals, with a lot of the money ending up in political party coffers.
The trader that struck the guilty pleas bargain, Rodrigo Garcia Berkowitz, is among a dozen former Petrobras employees who were two months ago charged by the Brazilian authorities with taking part in the scheme by offering the commodity trading houses lower prices for crude oil and services, and then distributed what was saved amongst themselves.
Berkowitz and the others are liable for money laundering under U.S. law because the investigation revealed money for bribes to Petrobras executives was transferred to bank accounts in the U.S., Great Britain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Uruguay.
Operation Car Wash hit Petrobras especially hard as the first revelations coincided with the oil price crash from 2014. As a consequence, the company ended up saddled with the highest debt load in the global oil industry, at some $120 billion.
Since then, Petrobras has been working to turn things around, helped by higher oil prices but mainly through an ambitious divestment program. This has not been going all too smoothly as some of the planned deals were suspended by the Supreme Court, but the suspensions have been temporary and Petrobras is now forging ahead with the debt-reduction plan.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.