Brazil’s corruption probe to grow, prosecutor says

Peter Prengaman
Associated Press

Curitiba, Brazil — The lead federal prosecutor in a massive corruption investigation roiling Brazil says that recent developments could double the size of the case, a staggering possibility given that the probe has ensnared many of the country’s elite, threatens to bring down President Michel Temer and is expanding to other Latin American countries.

Nearly three years after the first arrests in March 2014, the so-called Car Wash investigation has no end in sight, said Deltan Dallagnol, coordinator of the task force in the state of Parana, where the operations began and are still largely centered under the jurisdiction of Judge Sergio Moro.

“I would say that the new plea agreements could allow the Car Wash operation to double its size in the future,” Dallagnol told the Associated Press on Thursday, declining to go into detail because the cases were ongoing.

What started as an investigation into money-laundering has morphed into a corruption scandal so large that it has shocked Brazilians long accustomed to graft in politics. Investigators say more than $2 billion in bribes were paid out in a kickback scheme that was centered at state oil company Petrobras and included major construction companies like Odebrecht. In the last few years, dozens of politicians and top businessmen have been convicted and jailed, and many more are facing charges.

In a wide-ranging interview, Dallagnol said the investigation “lives at risk” because of forces trying to snuff it out. He said the pressures were increasing as the number “of powerful people caught up in it grows by the day.”

He said that while many believed the investigation was creating a “new Brazil,” its long-term impact depended on whether Latin America’s largest nation took measures to reform its political and judicial systems. He likened it to an ill patient who goes to the doctor and gets a diagnosis but doesn’t act on the medical advice.

“Unfortunately, we are still at the diagnostic stage,” said Dallagnol.

The investigation has become so large that it is expanding to other states and judges. The arrest warrant issued Thursday in Rio for Eike Batista, previously one of the world’s richest men now wanted for allegedly making bribes, is a testament to how far the Car Wash investigation and its offshoots have gone.

Last year, prosecutors reached a plea agreement with dozens of executives of constructor Odebrecht. The agreements, expected to be made public early this year, are believed to have damning evidence of bribes against top politicians in Brazil and possibly in other Latin American countries.

Temer, who has been fingered in other plea bargains but never charged, has denied wrongdoing.