BERLIN – Swiss authorities are handing Brazil more than $120 million that was frozen as part of corruption probes involving Brazilian state-run oil company Petrobras, prosecutors said Wednesday.
The federal prosecutor’s office in Bern said it has opened nine investigations into alleged money laundering since last April, targeting eight Brazilian citizens along with “persons as yet unidentified.”
It said it has found over 300 accounts at more than 30 banks in Switzerland that apparently were used to process bribes being investigated in Brazil. In total, it has frozen assets totalling about $400 million.
“The release of over $120 million reflects Switzerland’s clear intention to take a stand against the misuse of its financial centre for criminal purposes and to return funds of criminal origin to their rightful owners,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.
Brazilian prosecutors say a kickback scheme at Petrobras is the country’s biggest graft case yet, with at least $800 million paid by construction and engineering firms in bribes to politically appointed former executives at the oil company, all in exchange for winning inflated contracts.
The beneficiaries of the accounts found in Switzerland, most of them in the name of companies, are senior executives at Petrobras or its suppliers, financial intermediaries and, whether directly or indirectly, Brazilian or other foreign companies that paid bribes, Swiss prosecutors said.
They said that they arranged the return of $120 million in frozen funds to their rightful owners “with the agreement of two account holders” but did not elaborate.
They added that they have requested legal assistance from Brazil and the Netherlands, both of which in turn have sought similar help from Switzerland.