Lawyer detained for obstructing Brazil corruption probe

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — A lawyer representing a key convict in the corruption scandal at Brazil's state-run oil giant Petrobras was detained Friday as he arrived at Rio de Janeiro's international airport, police said.

Edson Ribeiro was wanted for his alleged role in a scheme to keep former Petrobras director-turned-key finger-pointer Nestor Cervero from testifying against the governing Workers' Party leader in the Senate, as well as a billionaire investment banker.

Sen. Delcidio do Amaral and the CEO of BTG Pactual bank, Andre Esteves, were detained Wednesday in connection with the plot, which was revealed thanks to a secret cell phone recording by Cervero's son. Both deny the accusations.

Police said Ribeiro was in the United States when the arrests were made and he was picked up early Friday as his flight from Miami landed in Rio. Investigators said that American authorities started monitoring him on Wednesday.

The recording made by Cervero's son appeared to show Ribeiro in a conversation in which Amaral offered payouts to the former Petrobras director's family in exchange not mentioning him or Esteves in testimony to investigators. The plotters are accused of offering a lump-sum payment of over $1 million and monthly payments of around $13,000 to help sustain the Cervero family.

The trio also appeared to discuss plans to spirit Cervero, who was convicted in August to 12 years in prison and is serving his time in the southern city of Curitiba, out of the country and to Spain, potentially via Brazil's porous border with Paraguay.

Brazilian newspapers reported that Amaral's lawyer had acknowledged it was the senator's voice on the recordings, though he maintained his client's innocence. The attorney said Amaral only agreed to meet with Cervero's son, a Rio-based actor, for "humanitarian reasons" and to provide him "a word of comfort," according to a report in O Globo newspaper.

A key ally of embattled President Dilma Rousseff, who is fighting for her political survival amid calls for her impeachment, Amaral was director at Petrobras from 1999 to 2001 under former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso. During that time, Cervero was one of Amaral's closest advisers.

Opposition senators have said they could start proceedings to strip Amaral of his mandate as early as next week.