Brazil Supreme Court approves Odebrecht graft plea deal testimony

The corporate logo of Odebrecht is seen in a construction site in Caracas, Venezuela January 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

BRASILIA (Reuters) - The president of Brazil’s Supreme Court, Carmen Lucia Rocha, approved plea bargain statements from 77 executives of engineering conglomerate Odebrecht [ODBES.UL] under investigation for paying bribes in the country’s biggest graft scandal, the court said on Monday.

The testimony, which will remain sealed, is expected to name dozens of politicians who received graft money in the corruption scheme centered on Brazil's state-run oil company Petrobras PETR4.SA.

Testimony from one ex-Odebrecht executive, leaked in December and reported by Globo, alleged the construction company had made illegal contributions to several senior politicians including President Michel Temer.

Prosecutors had asked Rocha not to hold up approval of the statements following the death of Teori Zavascki, the Supreme Court justice handling the case, in a plane crash on Jan. 19.

It remains unclear who will take over the case following Zavascki’s death, with Rocha approving the plea bargain testimony in her capacity as the on-duty minister during the court’s year-end recess.

In the midst of concern Zavascki’s death might stifle the investigation, Rocha’s move maintains for now at least the court’s pace as Zavascki had been expected to approve the testimonies in February.

Rocha has directed auxiliary judges to continue working on the case while Zavascki’s replacement is chosen.

Beyond President Temer, the leaked testimony from former Odebrecht executive Claudio Melo Filho also implicated the President’s Chief of Staff Eliseu Padilha, Senate President Renan Calheiros, and Speaker of the Lower House Rodrigo Maia.

The politicians deny all wrongdoing. Reuters was not independently able to verify the contents of the testimony.

Reporting by Maria Carolina Marcello; Writing by Anthony Boadle and Stephen Eisenhammer; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Chizu Nomiyama