May 8, 2019 / 12:19 PM / 19 days ago

UPDATE 3-Brazil corruption probe targets FX desk of Banco Paulista

(Adds comment from bank, size of currency desk)

By Pedro Fonseca

RIO DE JANEIRO, May 8 (Reuters) - Brazilian police on Wednesday arrested three executives at a small Sao Paulo bank in the latest phase of a sweeping investigation into corruption and money laundering.

Prosecutors running the latest phase of the so-called “Car Wash” probe allege that Banco Paulista SA was part of a scheme orchestrated by construction conglomerate Odebrecht SA to launder up to 328 million reais ($83 million) from 2009 to 2015.

The three executives are still employees of Banco Paulista, including the general manager and two foreign exchange employees. Known best for its brokerage Socopa, Banco Paulista touts one of Brazil’s top 25 currency desks by trading volume.

“The foreign exchange desk at Banco Paulista was surprised today by the federal police operation at its headquarters,” the bank said in a statement. “The institution is collaborating with authorities and returning to its regular operations.”

The prosecutors said they were also executing 41 search warrants at addresses that may be linked to the scheme.

According to the authorities, Odebrecht had a department set up to channel bribes to politicians and civil servants to win public contracts, especially at state-run oil firm Petroleo Brasileiro SA.

Federal police accused Banco Paulista of laundering money in conjunction with Meinl Bank Ltd, a lender that Odebrecht owned in Antigua and Barbuda between 2010 and 2016.

Odebrecht did not immediately reply to a request for comment. The conglomerate and scores of its executives have previously confessed to a vast bribery and money laundering scheme revealed by the Car Wash investigation since 2014.

The anti-corruption crusade has sent powerful politicians and businessmen to jail across Latin America but has had little impact on the finance industry, despite intense scrutiny of vast money laundering operations.

Prosecutor Júlio Noronha said Wednesday’s operation marked “the beginning (of a process) to punish agents working in the financial and banking industries, who helped to launder millions of reais and helped to pay bribes under the big scheme being investigated.” ($1 = 3.9314 reais) (Reporting by Pedro Fonseca in Rio de Janeiro; Writing by Ana Mano and Tatiana Bautzer in Sao Paulo; Editing by Brad Haynes, Alison Williams, Bill Trott and Jonathan Oatis)

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