May 9, 2014 / 2:45 AM / 6 years ago

Brazil court opens Petrobras bank records to police

SAO PAULO, May 8 (Reuters) - A Brazilian federal court on Thursday gave police access to bank records of Brazil’s state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA in a widening money laundering probe focused on refineries in Brazil and the United States.

The order from a court in Brazil’s southern state of Parana, gives police access to information on transactions between Petrobras, as the oil company is known, and companies involved in the construction of the $20 billion Abreu e Lima Refinery near Recife, Brazil, the court’s press office said.

Those companies include the Camargo Correa and Sanker construction and engineering groups. The order covers related transactions from Jan. 1, 2009 to Dec. 31 2013.

Police also gained access to the banking records of Paulo Roberto Costa, the former head of refining and fuel supply at Petrobras as well as some members of his immediate family. Costa was arrested in March as part of the investigation, known as Operation “Lava Jato”, Portuguese for car wash.

In addition to Abreu e Lima, the probe, is looking at 10 billion reais ($4.52 billion) of transactions and links between a Brazilian currency broker, politicians, Costa and Petrobras’ $1.7 billion purchase of a Pasadena, Texas refinery. The case has increased pressure on Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff as her campaign for re-election in October heats up.

The scandal has coincided with one of Rousseff’s biggest drops in popularity. Opposition politicians have used it to question her reputation as a sound manager. She was chairwoman of Petrobras when the company bought the Texas refinery.

Petrobras and its investments in refineries, offshore oil exploration and shipyards have been a key plank in Rousseff’s campaign. The company’s offices were raided in March by police who seized documents related to Operation Car Wash.

The 230,000-barrel-a-day Abreu e Lima refinery has seen its budget nearly quadruple in less than a decade. On a cost per barrel basis it is one of the most expensive refineries ever built.

Petrobras did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Neither did the Camargo Correa and Sanker groups.

$1 = 2.2139 Reporting by Roberto Samora; Writing by Jeb Blount in Rio de Janeiro

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