Unique: First Petrobras worker flips in Brazil commodity merchants probe

RIO DE JANEIRO/HOUSTON (Reuters) – A former dealer at oil agency Petrobras has signed a plea discount settlement with Brazilian prosecutors investigating bribery allegations, protection attorneys and prosecutors stated, a possible breakthrough in a case involving among the world’s high commodity buying and selling homes.

FILE PHOTO: Individuals stroll in entrance of Brazil’s state-run Petrobras oil firm headquarters in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, October 16, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes/File Picture

Rodrigo Garcia Berkowitz, who was a dealer at Petrobras’ Houston workplace till he was charged with accepting bribes in late 2018, reached the deal in precept in December, the attorneys stated. A choose then permitted it in late January, they added.

He’s the primary former Petrobras worker identified to have formally flipped within the Brazilian bribery and corruption probe.

Prosecutors alleged in December 2018 that Vitol, Glencore Plc and Trafigura, amongst different buying and selling companies, funneled tens of tens of millions of {dollars} of bribes from 2011 to at the least 2014 to workers of state-run Petroleo Brasileiro SA, as Petrobras is formally identified. In return, these companies would buy Petrobras gasoline at reductions or promote to the agency at a premium.

Two of Berkowitz’s protection attorneys spoke to Reuters on Monday. Federal prosecutors in Brazil additionally confirmed the deal to Reuters, however declined to remark additional, noting that the contents of the accord are nonetheless confidential.

In court docket paperwork, Brazilian prosecutors have portrayed Berkowitz, who glided by the code identify “Batman” in messages with alleged co-conspirators, as a central participant within the kickback scheme and a recipient of Vitol bribes. He beforehand pleaded responsible to conspiracy to commit cash laundering in the USA, the place the Federal Bureau of Investigation has opened a separate probe of the matter, Reuters reported final February.

However Brazilian prosecutors have sought to interrogate Berkowitz for their very own separate case, saying in court docket paperwork they think about his testimony invaluable for cracking the case, given his first-hand function in soliciting, receiving and laundering bribes.

Vitol, Trafigura and Glencore, which collectively management about 10% of the world’s oil consumption, have stated they’re cooperating with authorities and take allegations of corruption significantly. Trafigura has stated that any suggestion its present administration knew of improper funds will not be right.

The Berkowitz deal comes because the Brazil investigation heats up, with the tempo of in-court interrogations shortly accelerating in latest months, in line with paperwork reviewed by Reuters.

Brazilian prosecutors met with Berkowitz over two days in Houston in early December as a part of the discussions resulting in the deal, and U.S. prosecutors had been current for these conferences, stated Kent Schaffer, Berkowitz’s U.S. legal professional. That model of occasions was corroborated by a Rio de Janeiro-based lawyer additionally representing Berkowitz, Jorge Luis Digital camera.

Schaffer added he’s pushing for a broader settlement with Brazilian prosecutors that may additionally cowl Berkowitz’s members of the family, together with his father, Paulo Cesar, who was charged in 2018 with laundering the bribe funds.

Petrobras and Vitol didn’t instantly reply to further requests for remark.

Reporting by Gram Slattery in Rio de Janeiro and Gary McWilliams in Houston; Further reporting by Julia Payne in London; Enhancing by Matthew Lewis

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