August 17, 2016 / 11:21 PM / 3 years ago

Brazil seizes $655 mln in assets from Odebrecht, OAS, executives

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazil’s federal auditing court TCU ordered on Wednesday the seizure of about 2.1 billion reais ($655 million) worth of assets from engineering firms Odebrecht SA and OAS SA and some of their executives, to recoup losses from contracts related to the country’s biggest ever corruption scandal.

Brasilia-based TCU said in a ruling that the decision aims to recover some of the money that state-controlled oil company Petróleo Brasileiro overpaid for services rendered by Odebrecht and OAS in two works at the Abreu e Lima refinery. The scheme drove up the cost of those works by 25 percent, TCU said.

The former chief executive and scion of Odebrecht SA, Marcelo Bahia Odebrecht, and his former counterpart at OAS, José Adelmário “Leo” Pinheiro, had some of their assets seized, as well as those for four more executives at both firms. The decision also affected José Sérgio Gabrielli, the former CEO of Petrobras, the state oil company.

According to the ruling, councilors at the TCU argued that Bahia Odebrecht and Pinheiro practiced and directed “illicit acts to defraud through auctioning processes at Petrobras in order to maximize illegally the profit of their companies.” The lawyers representing both businessmen, who are also major shareholders in their respective companies, could not be reached for comment.

The decision highlights the way Brazil’s engineering groups and their owners are coping with legal and economic punishment in the aftermath of “Operation Car Wash,” which laid bare a system of illegal favors between politicians and business elites.

Odebrecht, Latin America’s largest engineering group, and OAS are among the 31 builders that allegedly colluded to rig contracts at Petrobras, the target of the corruption probe. The probe also accelerated the downfall of President Dilma Rousseff, who is expected to face an impeachment trial in the Senate next week for allegedly doctoring budget accounts.

More than 100 people, including Marcelo Bahia Odebrecht and Pinheiro, have been sentenced on corruption charges linked to kickback schemes, racketeering and money-laundering. Prosecutors say about $1.8 billion worth of bribe money has been recovered from offshore accounts in 36 countries.

Reporting by Guillermo Parra-Bernal; Additional reporting by Aluísio Alves in São Paulo; Editing by David Gregorio

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