GLOBAL ECONOMY

Investigators probing kickback scandal at Brazil's Petrobras find $17.2B in 'suspicious' activity

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff listens during the BRICS summit in Ufa, Russia, Thursday, July 9, 2015. Ufa hosts SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summits. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev, pool)

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff listens during the BRICS summit in Ufa, Russia, Thursday, July 9, 2015. Ufa hosts SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summits. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev, pool)

Investigators with Brazil's Finance Ministry say they have identified as much as $17 billion worth of suspicious activity that may be part of a kickback scandal engulfing the state-owned oil company Petrobras.

Antonio Gustavo Rodrigues, head of the ministry's financial intelligence unit, told a congressional committee the unit had detected the "suspicious movement of 55 billion reals in operations linked to Petrobras." That's equivalent to $17.2 billion. The website of the lower house of Congress said he made his comments Tuesday.

Rodrigues said police and prosecutors must now determine if the suspicious actions were in fact illegal.

Investigators say Brazil's top construction and engineering companies paid bribes to a handful of Petrobras' politically appointed executives in return for inflated contracts.

Prosecutors have alleged that some of the money then flowed into the campaign coffers of the governing Workers' Party and its allies, which they deny.

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In April, Petrobras acknowledged it chalked up $2.1 billion in losses over the past eight years as a result of the kickback scheme. However, Carlos Fernando Santos Lima, one of the prosecutors investigating the allegations, said last week that he suspects that Petrobras's losses were much higher.

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