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. 

rafael_angulo_lopez
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.”

Paulo_Roberto_Costa-2015_05_05_1
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.

Brazil: seeing the monster

Time for another quick trip down to Brazil.

We’ve reported earlier on the multibillion-dollar Petrobras scandal, which is making every American political scandal since Watergate – put together – look like a mere bagatelle. In recent months, as the investigation has widened, more and more top-level businessmen and politicians have been implicated in the kickback scheme centered on the country’s state-run oil firm.

dilma_lula
Dilma and Lula

And just as with Watergate, the net has reached ever higher. In just the past few weeks, authorities have raided the home of the beloved ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (known popularly as Lula) and detained him for questioning, in response to which President Dilma Rousseff tried to name Lula as her chief of staff to protect him from prosecution – only to have the appointment blocked by a federal judge. Meanwhile, Rousseff herself has been drawn into the probe, leading to calls for her resignation or impeachment. In short, it’s looking very much these days like an endgame.

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

Things have come a long way since March 2014, when, as David Segal of the New York Times reported in August, Alberto Youssef, described by Segal as “a convicted money launderer and former bon vivant,” sat in his jail cell and told two lawyers that about to reveal information to them that would bring down the Brazilian republic. As Youssef listed the names of the parties who, he claimed, had enriched themselves with Petrobras funds, the attorneys became increasingly aghast; one of them, Tracy Reinaldet, told Segal that “in Brazil, we know that corruption is a monster. But we never really see the monster. This was like seeing the monster.”

vaccari
João Vaccari Neto

In the case of Petrobras, the monster is many-headed one. So far over 100 indictments have been issued, several politicians arrested, and over a dozen companies sued. We’ve examined the cases of João Vaccari Neto, treasurer of the ruling Workers’ Party, and party hack Renato Duque, both of whom have been sentenced to long prison terms, the former for corruption and money-laundering, the latter for padding Petrobras contracts and transferring the excess take to party coffers.

santana
Joao Santana

We’ve discussed Joao Santana, Rousseff’s answer to Clinton campaign strategist James Carville, who was arrested for knowingly accepting payments from those illicit funds. And we’ve surveyed a number of others who’ve been nabbed for their roles in this massive scheme – among them, Paulo Roberto Costa, Petrobras’s former supplies director; Ricardo Pessoa, owner of UTC, a major construction company; and José Dirceu, Lula’s ex-chief of staff. Then there’s a couple of guys who turned state’s evidence: former Petrobras manager Pedro Barusco, who admitted he’d pocketed almost $100 million in dirty money, and businessmen Julio Camargo, who confessed to paying Petrobras $4.5 million in bribes.

But these names are just the tip of the iceberg. Several other big shots from both the public and private sector have also gone down, some of them since our previous look at this debacle. We’ll spend the rest of this week making their acquaintance.