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Brazil Car Wash judge killed in plane crash

The Brazilian judge overseeing the politically explosive investigation into a massive bribe and kickback scandal at the state energy company died Thursday in a plane crash. 

Supreme Court Justice Teori Zavascki was killed when a light plane he was travelling in crashed into the water near Paraty in Rio de Janeiro state. 

Zavascki, 68, presided over the corruption investigation known as Operation Car Wash. The probe focused on kickbacks, bribery, and politcal payoffs tied to contracts with Brazil’s state oil and gas giant, Petrobras.

Zavasck, pictured above, was vacationing. He left a Sao Paulo airport in a Hawker Beechcraft C90GT around 1 p.m. local time Thursday. The plane crashed an hour and a half later, two miles from an airport in Paraty.

Police and federal authorities are investigating the incident. Heavy rain may have been a factor.

Zavascki was compiling testimony from 77 executives from construction giant Odebrecht SA. The testimony was expected to provide evidence against about 100 politicians in Brazil including members of the current government.

Odebrecht admitted last month that over several years it paid nearly $800 million in bribes and kickbacks.

Odebrecht’s owner, Marcelo Odebrecht, was sentenced to 19 years in prison last March on charges of money laundering, corruption, and taking part in a criminal association.

In December, Odebrecht SA and its petrochemical unit, Braskem SA, entered into a global settlement of bribery and money laundering offenses with authorities in the United States, Brazil, and Switzerland. The companies agreed to pay combined penalties of $3.5 billion.

In the U.S., Odebrecht’s criminal penalty for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act was set at $260 million or more. Braskem agreed to pay the DOJ and SEC $159.8 million for criminal and civil FCPA offenses.

Braskem admitted that between 2006 and 2014, it paid about $250 million into Odebrecht’s secret bribe payment system. The money went to politicians and political parties in Brazil and to an official at Petrobras, the company said.

Odebrecht controls just over half of Braskem. Petrobras has a minority stake.

Justice Zavascki’s replacement on the Supreme Court will be nominated by Brazil’s president, Michel Temer. There is no fixed deadline for the nomination and it isn’t clear how Zavascki’s caseload will be handled.


Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog.

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1 Comment

  1. Some theories of conspiracy are already coming.

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