The bag man and the money mole

We’ve been looking at some of the more colorful Brazilian stooges whose careers have gone belly-up as a result of the massive corruption scandal surrounding Petrobras, the state-run oil giant. Here are three more. 

Brasil, Brasília, DF. 18/10/2005. O doleiro Alberto Youssef, operador do mercado financeiro que teria ligações com a corretora Bonus-Banval, depõe na sub-relatoria de Movimentação Financeira da Comissão Parlamentar Mista de Inquérito (CPMI) dos Correios, no Congresso Nacional, em Brasília (DF). - Crédito:JOEDSON ALVES/ESTADÃO CONTEÚDO/AE/Código imagem:161138
Alberto Youssef

Let’s start with Alberto “Beto” Youssef. A Bloomberg profile last year described him as “Brazil’s black-market central banker” – meaning that over the years he’s “smuggled cash for the rich and powerful” as part of a plethora of sleazy schemes. As a result of all this sordid activity, he’s been arrested nine times on a wide range of charges.

But his most recent role is definitely the role of a lifetime. Youssef was none other than the bagman in the Petrobras affair. Which means that when a blizzard of construction firms “bribed politicians and executives to look the other way as they inflated contracts” with Petrobras and other government-owned firms, Youssef played banker. He’s fessed up about all this to prosecutors – and, in the process, has also fingered other participants in the scheme, all the way up to President Dilma Rousseff herself, who ran the oil firm from 2003 to 2010. In return for his cooperation, his prison sentence of nine years and two months for money-laundering was reduced to three years. 

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Rafael Angulo Lopez

Working as Youssef’s “money mule” in the Petrobras affair was a guy named Rafael Angulo Lopez, who “flew around the world with shrink-wrapped bricks of cash strapped underneath his clothing.” Last August, the New York Times quoted his lawyer as saying that Lopez “took hundreds of trips…with portable fortunes cinched under his clothing.” On one occasion, he traveled with five hundred thousand euros in cash on his person. “He wore the sort of socks favored by soccer players,” reported the Times, and, when the haul was especially large, an orthopedic undershirt.”

The Independent provided even more details: Lopez would wrap “piles of bills in plastic wrap, pricking the packages and then squeezing them to get all the air out.” He then “stuck the packages to his legs, torso and arms and concealed them with elasticated clothing like Spanx and compression socks, underneath a baggy suit.” In this way, he managed to transport “up to $1.4 million to Europe on his body on commercial flights.” Quartz suggested that the story be turned into “a Brazilian version of Wolf of Wall Street, with middle-aged couriers in baggy suits and compression vests in place of Swiss misses in stilettos and bikinis.”

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Paulo Roberto Costa

Then there’s Paulo Roberto Costa, Petrobras’s former director of refining and supply, whose acceptance of a $78,000 Land Rover from Youssef marked the genesis of Operation Car Wash and whose confirmation of Youssef’s testimony – and implication of several dozen politicians in the scheme – helped widen the probe dramatically.

It also brought his sentence down to time served – a year in the can – plus another year’s house arrest. Without my tip-off, the probe would not have existed,” he bragged in November. He’s now writing a book about his experiences. Presumably he’ll make a nice little sum off of that.

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