San Francisco: The Petrobras scandal took a major step forward on Wednesday when federal police arrested the treasurer of Brazil’s ruling Workers’ Party.
João Vaccari Neto was picked up at his home in Sao Paulo and will be taken to the southern city of Curitiba to stand trial for corruption, money laundering and conspiracy. The charges against him relate to allegedly illegal campaign donations that prosecutors say he solicited from Renato Duque, Petrobras’ former director of services. Duque himself was arrested on Monday.
The scandal, which has rocked the nation and seriously undermined faith in big business and politicians, is now closer than ever to the door of president Dilma Rousseff. She was chair of the Petrobras Board of Directors between 2003 and 2010 but has denied any knowledge of the corruption.
As the huge web of the graft scheme has been exposed, Petrobras has been portrayed as the fulcrum of a price-fixing plot in which Brazilian construction companies and other suppliers are alleged to have vastly over-charged the state-run energy giant for contracts, bribed its executives, and funnelled money to politicians, while kicking back portions of the inflated contracts to individuals or as donations to political parties. The scandal is said to have cost billions of dollars.
Federal judge Sergio Moro ordered Vaccari Neto’s arrest after five defendants testified in plea bargain agreements that engineering firms hired by Petrobras had overcharged the oil firm and passed on profits to the Workers’ Party via Vaccari.
Criminal charges have been laid in Brazil against nearly 40 individuals, but Vaccari Neto is the highest profile one yet.
The scandal has generated nationwide outrage. On Sunday, about half a million people across the country participated in demonstrations about the affair.