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Brazilian prosecutors seek Rousseff campaign consultant's arrest

[BRASÍLIA] Prosecutors investigating corruption at Brazilian state oil giant Petrobras ordered on Monday the arrest of a prominent political consultant over multimillion-dollar payments he received while working on President Dilma Rousseff's re-election campaign.

The prosecutors office said it had evidence that Joao Santana and his wife Monica secretly received US$4.5 million in payments in 2013 and 2014 from a figure linked to the Petrobras scandal.

Santana is one of Brazil's best known political consultants, having played a prominent role as marketing director in the presidential campaigns of Rousseff and her predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Ms Rousseff was re-elected in 2014.

He also advised the campaigns of Venezuela's late president Hugo Chavez and his successor, Nicolas Maduro.

Prosecutors said Santana and his wife have not been arrested yet because they were out of the country.

The G1 news website said the couple was in the Dominican Republic working on a presidential campaign there.

In a statement, the prosecutor's office said it was investigating "possible crimes of corruption, foreign currency evasion and money-laundering resulting from a diversion of funds from Petrobras."

It alleged that the funds were diverted from Petrobras to Santana by a financial operator, Zwi Skornicki, and by offshore firms controlled by the Odebrecht Group, a Brazilian construction giant.

Skornicki is suspected of having paid bribes to Petrobras directors to manipulate the awarding of construction contracts.

Kickbacks said to have been paid by construction companies to gain contracts were allegedly used to pay off prominent politicians.

The scheme is estimated to have cost Petrobras some US$2 billion over a 10-year period, including years in which Rousseff chaired the company's board.

Ms Rousseff has not been accused in the scandal, but it has ensnared top leaders of her Workers Party as well as key members of the Brazilian Congress.

In the latest twist of the investigation, the Brazilian prosecutor's office said it had evidence that between September 2013 and November 2014, Skornicki transferred US$4.5 million in nine transactions to a foreign account belonging to Santana and his wife.

It issued arrest warrants for seven other people and seized documents concerning "the possible payment of Workers Party publicists with bribes coming from Petrobras." Raids were carried in the states of Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Bahia.

Additionally, the prosecutor's office said there were indications that Marcelo Odebrecht, the former Odebrecht president who has been under arrest since June, also was involved in bribing Argentine officials as well as Brazilian officials.