Brazil Car Wash graft probe widens to include U.S., Greek firms

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Brazilian authorities widened their Car Wash graft probe on Friday to include more international targets, ensnaring U.S. asphalt maker Sargeant Marine, six Greek shipping companies and a former Brazilian congressman.

“These operations leave a clear message: foreign firms will not be spared by Car Wash,” Prosecutor Athayde Ribeiro Costa said in a statement.

Former lawmaker Candido Vaccarezza, who had been a Workers Party government leader in the lower house, was arrested over allegations he received bribes of nearly $500,000 from Sargeant Marine in exchange for helping it win asphalt supply contracts from state-controlled oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA, the statement said.

Prosecutors have identified hundreds of foreign companies that did business with people under investigation in the massive probe into kickbacks from executives to politicians in return for contracts at state-run enterprises, especially Petrobras.

Reuters could not immediately reach representatives for Vaccarezza or Sargeant Marine.

From 2010 to 2013, Florida-based Sargeant Marine signed 12 contracts worth about $180 million with Petrobras, as the oil company is known, because of Vaccarezza’s influence, prosecutors said.

Police issued arrest warrants for an unnamed representative of Sargeant Marine, and for two unidentified people who were Petrobras managers at the time and were accused of involvement.

Separately on Friday, Brazilian authorities said they were investigating allegations that Greek shipping companies paid bribes to obtain contracts from Petrobras.

According to prosecutors, Konstantinos Kotronakis, Greece’s honorary consul in Rio de Janeiro, paid bribes and provided insider information to help the shipping companies win more than $500 million worth of contracts from Petrobras from 2009 to 2013.

The bribes, worth 2 percent of the contracts, were paid to civil servants, financial operators and politicians, investigators said.

The companies, which include Olympic Agencies, Perosea Shipping, Tsakos Aegean Dynacom Tankers Management, Galbraiths and Dorian Hellas, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Reporting by Pedro Fonseca; Additional reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Andrew Hay