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UK freezes US$6m London home tied to Petrobras affair

[LONDON] UK prosecutors have frozen a £5 million (S$8.78 million) apartment in west London owned by a Brazilian businessman implicated in the Petrobras bribery scandal.

The Serious Fraud Office believes the property in leafy Kensington was bought with money "linked to corrupt funds," Judge Johannah Cutts said in a ruling this month. She said prosecutors sought to tie the apartment to Julio Faerman, who agreed to pay US$54 million to Brazilian authorities investigating bribery at the state-owned oil producer Petroleo Brasileiro, known as Petrobras.

The "civil recovery" investigation came to a light following a London court hearing where attorneys for Faerman unsuccessfully tried to get the SFO to drop requests for further information on his finances. The prosecutors have been seeking to trace funds from Swiss bank accounts held by a series of offshore companies, the judge said.

The SFO applied to freeze the property in January 2019.

"This judgment makes clear that there is a clear and compelling public interest in maintaining this disclosure order," the SFO said in a statement. "We are committed to preventing those who bribe, cheat and steal from enjoying their ill-gotten gains in this country."

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Mr Faerman, who worked as an agent for Dutch firm SBM Offshore NV to win contracts from Petrobras, signed a "cooperation agreement" with Brazilian authorities in 2015. SBM agreed to pay US$238 million and its US unit pleaded guilty to resolve allegations that it bribed officials in five countries, including Brazil.

SBM signed an updated leniency agreement with Brazilian prosecutors in 2018 that included a civil fine of  US$86.4 million, and it agreed to provide information about payments to Faerman and his companies from 2004 to 2006. Mr Faerman was part of a colossal pay-to-play scandal known as Carwash that saw members of Brazil's political and business elite go to jail and paved the way for Jair Bolsonaro to win the presidency in 2018 on a law-and-order platform.

At the time of the freezing order last year, the SFO's investigator said she intended to request further information from "financial institutions and professional advisers, including accountants and solicitors," the judge said.

Mr Faerman's attorneys argued that the request for information shouldn't have been issued because the businessman was outside the country.

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