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Former Petrobras Executive: $200M Skimmed for Ruling Party

Former Petrobras executive Pedro Barusco listens to a question during his testimony at the Parliamentary Commission of Enquiry of the Chamber of Deputies in Brasilia, Brazil, March 10, 2015.

A former Petrobras executive told a congressional hearing in Brazil on Tuesday that the ruling political party received up to $200 million skimmed from contracts with the state-run oil company, publicly reiterating claims made in plea-bargain testimony.

Pedro Barusco, a former executive at the Petrobras services department, said he had received payments as early as 1997 and in larger amounts starting in 2004. Workers' Party treasurer JoIao Vaccari and Renato Duque, who previously ran the Petrobras services department, also benefited, Barusco said.

Barusco told lawmakers he personally never passed money to Vaccari, but estimated the treasurer for President Dilma Rousseff's political party had received between $150 million and $200 million between 2003 and 2014, based on the percentages of contracts he himself received.

"I got a piece; they got a piece,'' Barusco said. He has pledged to return $97 million to public coffers as part of a deal he reached with prosecutors to avoid jail time.

Barusco spoke at a time of escalating fallout from the scandal at Petroleo Brasileiro SA, as Petrobras is formally known, with dozens of lawmakers now implicated as the investigation enters a volatile new phase.

Prosecutors started questioning Vaccari on Feb. 5, but he has not been charged with any crime. His lawyer said at the time that the Workers' Party receives only legal donations and that he would cooperate with investigators. Duque was briefly jailed last year and does not face criminal charges.

Forty people, including two other former Petrobras executives, have been charged in the southern city of Curitiba, and 14 are in jail awaiting sentencing.

Many are executives of the country's top engineering firms charged with forming a cartel that funneled funds from Petrobras contracts, allegedly enriching themselves and politicians.

Barusco said he first remembered seeing the cartel active on a contract to build the Abreu e Lima refinery in northeast Brazil, the biggest investment project in Petrobras' history, and in Comperj, a refinery outside Rio de Janeiro.

Defense lawyers told Reuters this week that they expected to see the first verdicts on some cases in Curitiba in about a month, possibly before all witnesses are heard, as the focus of the case moves to the politicians being tried by the Supreme Court.

Rousseff, who was chairwoman of the company's board when much of the graft took place, has denied any knowledge of corruption at Petrobras and has urged a thorough investigation.