Brazil police take statements in Petrobras probe

 Brazilian police Saturday began questioning some two dozen people arrested in the course of a wide-ranging probe into allegations of a multi-billion-dollar kickback scheme at state-owned oil giant Petrobras the day before.

Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian police Saturday began questioning some two dozen people arrested in the course of a wide-ranging probe into allegations of a multi-billion-dollar kickback scheme at state-owned oil giant Petrobras the day before.

A plane with 16 suspects, including Renato Duque, the former Petrobras director of engineering and services, and nine executives from construction companies that signed fraudulent contracts with the oil giant, arrived at dawn in Curitiba in southern Brazil, for questioning, according to the Globo newspaper`s website, G1.

Meanwhile, police said some 2,500 people protested in Sao Paulo`s otherwise calm downtown against the corruption, which has been linked to the government of newly reelected President Dilma Rousseff. She is a former Petrobras board chair.

Four other suspects who turned themselves in Friday evening will also be questioned, while five remain at large.

On Friday, 27 people were arrests in raids across Brazil by 30 police teams that fanned out across the country to scoop up the suspects.

Authorities, under pressure to get to the bottom of the escalating crisis at Petrobras, also froze assets worth 720 million reais ($277 million) belonging to 36 suspects and three unnamed companies.

Former Petrobras director Paulo Roberto Costa has said the company allegedly paid millions of dollars in kickbacks to politicians and members of the ruling Workers Party between 2004 and 2012 to buy influence in what critics say was a collusion between Petrobras and politicians. 

Costa, who is under house arrest, has been acting as whistleblower as part of a plea bargain with prosecutors. The allegations roiling Petrobras have been dubbed "Operation Car Wash."

On Saturday Brazilian Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Cardozo accused opposition of using the episode to discredit Rousseff`s October reelection.

The government will continue to demand "that we investigate everything... I say this to strongly discredit attempts to orchestrate, with this investigation, a third electoral round," he said during a press conference in Sao Paulo.

Just before the second round of voting in October, news magazine Veja quoted a suspect in the case as saying Rousseff and predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva knew about the kickbacks scheme, a claim both angrily denied.

Police estimate more than 10 billion reais of kickbacks were made in all.

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