Brazil probes alleged money laundering on sales to Venezuela's PDVSA

The corporate logo of the state oil company PDVSA is seen at a gas station in Caracas, Venezuela, August 30, 2017. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Brazilian police on Monday launched an operation involving possible money laundering by the agricultural arm of Venezuela’s state-run oil company PDVSA through imports of agricultural equipment from Brazil, authorities said.

Under the scheme, which has been under investigation for three years, PDVSA overpaid two companies, one Venezuelan and one Brazilian, for agricultural machinery to the tune of 200 million reais ($64.46 million) between 2010 and 2014, officials said.

According to police, Venezuela’s Tracto America, a trading company, bought agricultural equipment from Brazil’s America Trading which was sold to PDVSA at inflated prices.

The extra money was distributed to front companies, disguised as payments to consulting firms. Some landed in accounts in Brazil, but most ended up abroad in Panama, the United States and Switzerland, among other countries.

Arib Jiobanny Garcia Vargas, the owner of Tracto America, was arrested in Madrid with Interpol’s help and is also under investigation in Venezuela for foreign exchange crimes and smuggling.

The operation also includes six search and seizure warrants in Brazil’s Rio Grande do Sul and Sao Paulo states, and six people were detained for questioning.

Brazilian authorities said they are planning to launch a new stage of the investigation to unravel further details in collaboration with Venezuelan prosecutors.

($1 = 3.1026 reais)

Writing by Alexandra Alper; Editing by Jonathan Oatis