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Brazil Police Target Politicians in New Round of Petrobras Probe

FILE - Former Petrobras executive, Renato Duque, left, at Federal Police headquarters, Rio de Janeiro, March 16, 2015.
FILE - Former Petrobras executive, Renato Duque, left, at Federal Police headquarters, Rio de Janeiro, March 16, 2015.

Brazilian police carried out their first search and seizure operations on Tuesday aimed at sitting lawmakers suspected of taking bribes in a corruption scandal at state-run oil firm Petrobras.

Police seized luxury cars including a red Ferrari, a black Porsche and a gray Lamborghini from the home of Senator Fernando Collor de Mello, a former president, according to a Reuters witness.

The operation, which consisted of 53 related search and seizure operations during the day, was ordered to prevent the destruction or removal of evidence, according to statements from the police and federal prosecutors.

Police did not provide the names of those under investigation but confirmed the operations were ordered by Brazil's Supreme Court, which is the only authority that can order a criminal investigation of sitting politicians.

Collor, who was impeached in 1992 for alleged corruption, said on Twitter that the operation was "invasive" and "arbitrary" and intended only to intimidate potential witnesses.

According to Brazilian media, senators Ciro Nogueira and Fernando Bezerra and congressman Eduardo da Fonte were among the targets of Tuesday's operations. Police also conducted a search at a TV station where Collor is a main stakeholder.

Since March of last year, the corruption probe known as Operation Car Wash has landed former Petrobras executives and some of Brazil's most powerful construction magnates behind bars, accused of fixing contracts in return for bribes.

Thirty-four lawmakers and one vice governor are under investigation.

The massive kickback scandal has paralyzed infrastructure plans of Petroleo Brasileiro SA, as Petrobras is formally known, and undermined President Dilma Rousseff's political standing as she struggles with a sputtering economy.

The police statement said Tuesday's operations were taking place in the Federal District and six states: Bahia, Pernambuco, Alagoas, Santa Catarina, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.

In a statement, senator Bezerra "reaffirmed" his trust in the authorities and said he is ready to provide any information requested. Efforts to reach the lawmakers Nogueira and da Fonte were unsuccessful.