CURITIBA, Brazil, (Reuters) – Brazilian police said yesterday they intercepted a note from the jailed chief executive of Odebrecht SA to his lawyers asking to “destroy email,” after he became the highest-profile executive arrested in Brazil’s largest ever corruption investigation.
The handwritten note, reproduced by Federal Police and posted in court documents online, says “destroy email drilling rigs.”
Marcelo Odebrecht, head of Brazil’s largest engineering and construction conglomerate, was arrested Friday in a sweeping investigation into a kickback scheme at the state-run oil company Petrobras.
Dora Cavalcanti, a lawyer for Odebrecht, called the publication of the note “an act of extreme bad faith by the police,” and said there was nothing criminal about its contents or Odebrecht’s intent.
“That phrase ‘destroy email’ meant ‘explain’ or ‘refute’ the allegations about the email,” Cavalcanti told Reuters, adding that it was one of seven points in Odebrecht’s notes for his plea for habeas corpus, or release from unlawful imprisonment.
The note intercepted by prison guards Monday also mentions “Andre Esteves,” the name of a prominent Brazilian banker. Cavalcanti confirmed Odebrecht was referring to the CEO of Grupo BTG Pactual SA in providing context for his defense.
Shares in that bank fell nearly 4 percent yesterday after the note was published online. Pactual had no comment.
The note’s interception was the latest wrinkle in a 16-month-old investigation which had already taken a dramatic turn on Friday with the arrest of Odebrecht and the head of Brazil’s No. 2 construction company Andrade Gutierrez.
Lead prosecutor Carlos Fernando dos Santos Lima said he had “no doubt” the two companies led what he called a “cartel” that overcharged Petrobras for contracts and passed on the excess funds to executives and politicians.
The investigation turned up an email from an Odebrecht executive that copied in Marcelo Odebrecht and referred to “over-pricing in the operations contract of $20-25,000/day (for drilling rig).”
Odebrecht took out newspaper ads saying the term “over-pricing” in the email has “nothing to do with overbilling, overcharging or any irregularity.” Cavalcanti reiterated that the email was referring to a “cost-plus-fee” pricing arrangement.
Odebrecht, the 46-year-old scion of one of Brazil’s biggest family-run companies, has not been charged and is being held in preventive prison in the southern Brazilian city of Curitiba, the epicenter of the investigation.