FBI Joins Brazil's Probe Into Alleged Bribery by Top Oil Traders

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. authorities have joined Brazil’s investigation into alleged bribery involving Petrobras and some of the world’s largest trading companies, according to the Brazilian law enforcement officer in charge of the probe.

The U.S. Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation have also started working on the investigation, first announced by Brazilian authorities in December, that includes trading companies Trafigura Group Ltd., Vitol Group and Glencore Plc, said Filipe Pace, head of the so-called Carwash probe. The Justice Department declined to comment Thursday.

Brazilian prosecutors have accused at least seven former employees of Petroleo Brasileiro SA of taking more than $31 million in bribes from intermediaries linked to the world’s biggest commodity-trading firms in exchange for fuel-oil contracts or better fuel-oil contract terms with the traders. The investigation is an outgrowth of the long-running Carwash bribery scandal in Brazil, which has so far ensnared scores of business leaders, including several Petrobras executives, and politicians including former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Brazil is voluntarily sharing information with U.S. authorities, since some of the alleged activity took place in Texas, Pace said. Brazil isn’t asking the U.S. to share details about the focus of its investigation. U.S. involvement in the probe was reported earlier by Reuters, citing unidentified people familiar.

"We are sharing information and we want whoever is proved to have committed a crime to be prosecuted, in Brazil or in the U.S.,” said Pace.

Ex-Trafigura executive Mariano Marcondes Ferraz is cooperating with Brazilian authorities as he seeks to close a plea bargain deal in Curitiba, Pace said. Luiz Eduardo Loureiro Andrade, who was briefly detained in Florida on Dec. 20, has been accused of working as an intermediary for trading companies to bribe Petrobras officials and is cooperating in the U.S., according to Pace. Marcondes and Loureiro couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Vitol and Glencore have previously said they are cooperating with Brazil’s probe, and Trafigura has directed prior questions to a statement where it denied management had any knowledge of the alleged bribery. Glencore declined to comment Thursday and the other two trading firms didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment outside of regular office hours.

Among the Petrobras employees named by investigators is 39-year-old fuel oil trader Rodrigo Berkowitz, who worked in the Petrobras office in Houston until Dec. 5. Berkowitz, who didn’t respond to a phone call seeking comment Thursday, is currently on an Interpol list of wanted people. Petrobras fired him on the same day the Brazilian police operation was announced.

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