The United States Department of Justice is investigating a former Petrobras oil trader who has already been accused in his country of participating in a corruption scheme involving Vitol SA, Glencore PLC, and Trafigura AG, according to people familiar with the matter. matter.
It was the first confirmation that US researchers have joined a new phase of the investigation into corruption in the car wash sector in Brazil that has toppled presidents in two countries and sent more than 130 politicians and entrepreneurs to the chain in Latin America.
The East District Attorney’s Office in New York is talking to Rodrigo Garcia Berkowitz, a Houston oil trader who is being sought in Brazil for accepting millions of dollars in tips for himself and others, according to one of the people familiar with government. care.
Berkowitz, 39, is cooperating with US authorities in the investigation and may face charges in the United States, one of the people said, although he has not been charged at the time.
Berkowitz could not be found to comment via associates, phone or e-mail, and it was not immediately known which law firm represented him.
Brazilian prosecutors said executives of commodity companies, including some from the United States, were involved in undue payments to executives of state-owned Petróleo Brasileiro SA, and that Berkowitz and others worked directly with these companies.
Vitol, Glencore, Trafigura and others collectively paid at least $ 31 million in tips over a six-year period to Petrobras employees to secure business advantages, Brazilian prosecutors said.
The case of New York signals that the prosecutors there are examining Vitol’s US weapons and others involved by Brazilian authorities, as some of these funds have moved through US and European banking systems.
Bribes paid to Petrobras went through bank accounts in the United States, Britain, Sweden, Switzerland and Uruguay, Brazilian officials said, opening an avenue for US prosecutors to investigate violations of US money laundering laws.
In December, Mike Loya, director of US operations for Vitol, based in Houston, was identified in Brazilian collection documents against Berkowitz and others for having full knowledge of the negotiation scheme. Loya was not charged. He did not respond to requests for comment.
US Assistant Attorney General Mark Bini is handling the case, the people said. Contacted by telephone, Bini declined to comment, and a spokeswoman for the US Justice Department declined to comment.
Federal prosecutors in Brazil declined on Thursday to say whether they were collaborating with the US Department of Justice on the case.
Investigators from the East District of New York office worked side by side with Brazilian prosecutors in the carwashing investigation in the past. At the end of 2016, they negotiated jointly with construction company Odebrecht, which resulted in a $ 2.6 billion fine and access to company executives who could testify over decades of bribery paid throughout Latin America.
Vitol, Trafigura, and Glencore declined to comment on the US investigation. Vitol and Glencore have reiterated earlier statements that they are cooperating with Brazilian authorities, and Trafigura said it takes the charges seriously. All were suspended on business with Petrobras.
Brazil issued an Interpol notification in red in early December, calling Berkowitz a fugitive from a lawsuit and requesting his arrest. The US Marshals’ Houston office said it had received no request to arrest Berkowitz.
US officials two months ago arrested Luiz Eduardo Loureiro Andrade, a Brazilian businessman, on allegations that he bribed bribes to Petrobras employees of Vitol and others, according to Brazilian court documents.
Andrade, Berkowitz and nine others were indicted in Brazil in December of allegations that they channeled deals to Vitol and other commercial companies between 2011 and 2014. Andrade could not be reached for comment.