BRASILIA – The Brazilian Attorney General’s Office extended on Tuesday for another year the so-called Lava Jato (Car Wash) investigation, a far-reaching probe that started in 2014 into a $2 billion bribes-for-inflated-contracts scheme centered on state oil company Petrobras.
The decision to continue the investigation was made during a meeting of the National Prosecutors Council, which was presided over for the last time by Attorney General Rodrigo Janot, who will finish his term on the body next month.
Last week, prosecutors said the budget for the investigation would rise from 522,600 reais ($167,500) in 2017 to 1.6 million reais ($512,820) next year.
The probe has led to the arrest and conviction of dozens of politicians, Petrobras officials and executives at leading Brazilian construction and engineering companies.
The investigation has centered on allegations that construction giant Odebrecht and other large engineering companies paid bribes to corrupt Petrobras officials in exchange for inflated contracts and funneled money to politicians who provided cover for the graft.
Investigators later discovered that the same practices existed at other state-owned companies and involved many of the same people.
So far, 157 individuals have been convicted and sentenced to prison terms totaling 1,563 years.
Among those caught up in the corruption scandal was former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who was sentenced on July 12 to nine years and six months in prison in connection with the Petrobras scheme.
The investigation turned up evidence that other companies allegedly paid bribes to hundreds of politicians, including President Michel Temer, who prosecutors have accused of engaging in corrupt practices.
Starting on Wednesday, the lower house of Congress – where the president’s party has a majority – will begin debating whether the prosecution of Temer can go forward.
It would take a two-thirds majority of that body to put Temer in the dock.
If Congress allows the prosecution, Temer will be suspended for six months and lower house speaker Rodrigo Maia will be named interim president.
In the event Temer were convicted by the Supreme Court, Congress would choose a successor to serve out the balance of the presidential term that ends Jan. 1, 2019.
Temer became president when his predecessor, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached and later ousted from office last year for allegedly violating budget laws.