Story by The Wall Street Journal
Swiss authorities say they have frozen hundreds of millions of dollars in assets tied to a corruption scandal at Petróleo Brasileiro SA, and have unearthed hundreds of accounts at Switzerland’s banks used to funnel bribes as part of the alleged wrongdoing at Brazil’s state oil company.
In a statement on Wednesday, Switzerland’s Office of the Attorney General said it has ordered the freezing of roughly $400 million in assets related to the scandal at Petrobras, and that ongoing probes have identified more than 300 accounts at more than 30 “banking institutions” in the country that the officials say were apparently used to process bribery payments now under investigation in Brazil.
The attorney general’s office said it has arranged for more than $120 million in frozen assets to be repatriated to their “rightful owners.” Since April of last year, the office said it has opened investigations based on allegations of money laundering and corruption at Petrobras, focused on eight Brazilian citizens. A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office declined to comment on the identities of the Brazilians. A Petrobras spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. In the past, Petrobras has said it was a victim of the alleged scheme and that it is cooperating with investigators.
Switzerland, which protects the identities of bank clients with its secrecy laws, has in recent years sought to combat its image as a convenient location for corrupt foreign officials and executives to hide ill-gotten wealth. On Wednesday, Swiss officials said their Petrobras-related actions reflect the country’s intention “to take a stand against the misuse of its financial center for criminal purposes.”
Federal prosecutors in Brazil are investigating some of that country’s top lawmakers as part of a continuing probe into corruption at Petrobras. Earlier this month, Brazil’s Supreme Court gave prosecutors a green light to investigate 47 politicians, including Senate President Renan Calheiros, as part of the dragnet. Many lawmakers have denied any wrongdoing. Earlier this month, a post on Mr. Calheiros’s official Twitter account said: “As for me I will give all explanations in the light of day and provide whatever information the courts desire.”
On Monday, prosecutors filed related corruption and money laundering charges against Workers’ Party Treasurer João Vaccari Neto, and former Petrobras executive Renato Duque. Prosecutors allege that Mr. Vaccari solicited illegal campaign donations from Mr. Duque, who was the third former Petrobras executive charged as part of the investigation.
Mr. Duque’s lawyer has said his client didn’t commit any wrongdoing. A lawyer representing Mr. Vaccari has said Mr. Vaccari denies any wrongdoing.