Brazil corruption probe targets firms, former minister close to dam project

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Brazilian police on Friday served fresh search warrants in a new phase of the so-called “Car Wash” investigation that targeted a former cabinet minister and a consortium accused of corruption relating to construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam.

Federal police said in a statement they were serving nine search warrants in the states of Parana and Sao Paulo.

Police have alleged that the Norte Energia SA consortium of companies made illegal payments to government officials and politicians to win the contract to build the dam, which has been in operation since 2016.

A target of the raids is Antonio Delfim Netto, who served as Brazil’s finance, agriculture and planning minister during different administrations. He is also a former congressman, federal prosecutors said in a separate statement.

Netto is accused of accepting bribes in connection with the contract to build the dam. In a statement, his attorneys denied any wrongdoing. The values received by Netto were fees for consultancy services, they said, referring to the bribery claims.

Illegal payments were also allegedly made by the construction firms to political parties, including the Workers’ Party and President Michel Temer’s Brazilian Democratic Movement party, prosecutors said.

Norte Energia did not have an immediate comment.

The Workers’ Party said the prosecutor’s accusations were baseless and politically motivated in an election year. The Brazilian Democratic Movement party denied receiving bribes from the Norte Energia consortium.

The investigation said that the companies responsible for building Belo Monte were “expected to pay bribes to political parties and their representatives equal to 1 percent of the value of the contract.”

The Belo Monte dam on the Xingu River in the north of Brazil will have installed capacity of 11,233 megawatts when all generating units are turned on, according to Norte Energia’s website.

That would be enough to supply electricity to 60 million people, it said.

Reporting by Pedro Fonseca, Writing by Ana Mano, Editing by Angus MacSwan and Bernadette Baum