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Former Brazil minister, BNDES head pressured firms for donations: report

[RIO DE JANEIRO] A former Brazilian finance minister and the current head of the nation's state development bank allegedly pressured big construction firms into making campaign donations for President Dilma Rousseff, a newspaper reported Sunday.

The Folha de S Paulo newspaper cited testimony it says Marcelo Odebrecht, the jailed former chief executive of the Odebrecht construction conglomerate, gave while trying to broker a deal to become a state's witness.

According to Folha, Mr Odebrecht told prosecutors that former finance minister Guido Mantega and BNDES head Luciano Coutinho were in charge of pressuring businesses that secured BNDES loans for overseas work to make contributions to Ms Rousseff's 2014 reelection.

In a written statement given to Folha, Mr Coutinho denied playing any role in Ms Rousseff's campaign, while Mantega's lawyer Jose Batochio said his client also had nothing to do with obtaining donations for the president's reelection.

Neither Mr Mantega nor BNDES responded to requests for comment, and Ms Rousseff's office did not return calls. Odebrecht's lawyers also did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment.

Folha did not say how it acquired the leaked testimony or when Odebrecht gave it.

Odebrecht, who ran Latin America's largest engineering firm, was sentenced in March to more than 19 years on corruption charges for his role in a massive graft scheme that has engulfed state-run oil company Petrobras. His company used BNDES loans to finance several large projects abroad.

If prosecutors accept him as a witness he could cut his sentence in half under Brazilian law.

The report is the first time that Brazil's BNDES development bank has been linked to the Petrobras scandal, though federal prosecutors speaking on background have long indicated the institution is a likely target in the probe.

The investigation into graft at Petrobras, dubbed "Operation Car Wash", has uncovered a kickback scheme that has ensnared dozens of top politicians and high-level executives at Brazil's biggest construction and engineering firms.

Prosecutors say company officials paid billions in bribes over several years in return for bloated contracts.

Ms Rousseff has not been linked to the payment of bribes and impeachment proceedings against her are not connected to the probe. The Senate is due to vote this week whether to put her on trial for her removal from office.

REUTERS