Latin America & Caribbean

Brazil corruption probe: Key suspect arrested in Spain

The headquarters of Odebrecht SA is pictured in Sao Paulo, Brazil, March 22, 2016. Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Police did not name the suspect but said he was a lawyer at construction giant Odebrecht

Police in Spain have arrested a man they suspect of being the financial brain behind a huge corruption scandal which has rocked Brazilian politics.

Spanish police arrested the 43-year-old man, who has dual Spanish and Brazilian nationality, in a hotel in Madrid.

Officers did not reveal the man's name but said he was a lawyer for Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht.

He is suspected of being the mastermind behind a kickback scheme involving Brazil's state oil company, Petrobras.

Police allege the man, whose initials they said were RTB, led a scheme in which politicians received bribes in return for awarding lucrative public works contracts to private companies.

Brazil's continuing corruption problem

The investigation into the scandal, dubbed Operation Car Wash, first focused on corruption at Brazilian oil giant Petrobras.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Ex-Rio state governor Sergio Cabral was arrested last week in connection with the probe

But it has since uncovered a wide range of companies said to be involved in the kickback scheme, including Odebrecht, Latin America's largest construction firm.

Odebrecht's CEO, Marcelo Odebrecht, is serving a 19-year prison sentence for money laundering and bribery.

The man arrested in Madrid on Tuesday is suspected of diverting nearly $15m (£12m) to political parties in Brazil.

He is thought to have fled from Brazil to Spain in April via the United States. He arrived in Spain only days ago.

He is the first suspect to be detained in Spain as part of Operation Car Wash.

His arrest comes less than a week after the former governor of Rio state, Sergio Cabral, was detained in his home in Rio as part of the Car Wash investigation.

Dozens of powerful political and business figures have been found guilty and jailed as a result of the probe, including Workers' Party treasurer Joao Vaccari and the former head of Brazil's Eletronuclear power company, Othon Luiz Pinheiro da Silva.

The scandal has led to mass street protests in Brazil.

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