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Argentine prosecutors cast wide net in Brazil graft probe - source

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentine prosecutors are probing close to 100 companies, among them Brazilian firms, in an investigation into the suspected payment of bribes to government officials, a source with direct knowledge of the investigation said.

The Argentine probe stems from Brazil’s “Operation Car Wash” graft case, which has resulted in the jailing of some company executives, criminal charges against former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and which threatens to topple his successor, Dilma Rousseff.

An Argentine prosecutor said last week that the local unit of Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht SA [ODBES.UL] is under investigation in Argentina for possible bribery. A Brazilian court sentenced Odebrecht’s former chief executive, Marcelo Odebrecht, to 19 years in prison last week for his role in the snowballing scandal in Brazil.

The Argentine source said other Brazilian firms under investigation in Argentina include Andrade Gutierrez , OAS [OAS.UL] and Camargo Correa [PMORRC.UL].

The federal judge spearheading the case in Brazil has said Odebrecht formed a “cartel” with other companies through which they systematically rigged bidding on state-run projects.

“Brazilian prosecutors said there was a reasonable suspicion that the same scheme was replicated here in Argentina,” the source said on Friday.

Construction and engineering group Camargo Correa said it was unaware of the Argentine investigation.

Andrade Gutierrez, Brazil’s second largest engineering firm, declined to comment and construction conglomerate OAS did not reply to requests for comment.

The Argentine investigation began in December, the source said, and was examining company operations from 2006 to 2012.

Investigators had asked the finance ministry to provide details of all payments made to the companies under investigation, the source said. “At the centre of the investigation will be the planning ministry.”

No evidence of bribes being paid had been found three months into the investigation, the source said.

Brazilian prosecutors accused Odebrecht of paying bribes to win multi-billion dollar contracts with state-run oil company Petrobras.

Additional reporting by Alberto Alerigi Jr in Sao Paulo; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Alistair Bell