Former Brazil senator sentenced to 19 years in Petrobras probe

SAO PAULO, Oct 13 (Reuters) - A former Brazilian senator was sentenced on Thursday to 19 years in prison for corruption, money laundering and obstruction of justice in the investigation of kickbacks at state-run oil company Petrobras.

Gim Argello was arrested in April on evidence he took 7.35 million reais ($2.28 million) in bribes to ensure executives at major infrastructure companies would not be summoned by an investigative congressional committee in 2014.

Argello, a senator for the federal district from 2007 to 2015, was serving as the vice president of the congressional committee looking into accusations of widespread corruption in Petrobras projects in 2014.

“Instead of fulfilling his duty, the condemned took advantage of power and opportunity to illegally enrich himself and continue a criminal cycle,” federal judge Sergio Moro wrote in his decision. “The practice of crimes by congressmen, overseers of law, is especially reprehensible.”

The decision found that Argello, of the centrist Brazilian Labor Party, received 5 million reais in campaign contributions from UTC Engenharia SA and 2 million reais in contributions from Toyo Setal Engenharia.

Argello was also convicted of taking 350,000 reais from builder OAS SA - money that was laundered through a Catholic church in the district.

Thursday’s ruling was the latest chapter in the probe centered on Petroleo Brasileiro SA, known as Petrobras. It has uncovered systemic corruption at multiple companies and at the highest levels of government.

To date, nearly 200 executives and former politicians have been charged in the Petrobras probe and over 80 have been found guilty. Prosecutors are seeking some 38 billion reais in damages from companies and individuals involved.

Many of those jailed have been executives at Brazil’s biggest construction companies that paid billions in bribes in return for inflated contracts.

But the investigation has begun to focus on public officials. Brazil’s top prosecutor is investigating 66 current and former lawmakers, including the sitting head of the Senate and several former high-profile government ministers.

$1 = 3.22 Brazilian reais Reporting by Brad Brooks, editing by G Crosse