Newspaper: Petrobras told of corruption in 2009

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SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazil's state-run oil company was warned five years ago of the kickback scheme that has plunged Petrobras into one of the country's worst corruption scandals, a newspaper reported Friday.

The paper, Valor Economico, said it obtained documents showing that in 2009, former Petrobras executive Venina Velosa da Fonseca warned chief executive Maria das Gracas Foster about inflated contracts on refinery projects.

In response, Petrobras issued a statement saying it began internal investigations into the information in 2008. It said Fonseca was fired in 2009 for violating the company's procurement procedures.

Authorities allege top officials from Petrobras operated a kickback scheme on contracts worth upward of $4 billion, with money eventually fed back to the governing Workers' Party and other top parties for political campaigns.

Executives from some of the nation's biggest construction firms are among 35 people charged on Thursday with involvement in the scheme and Judge Sergio Moro ruled on Friday said that nine of them must face trial. It was unclear when and if he would accept the charges filed against the remaining 26.

Charges include corruption, money laundering and the formation of a criminal organization.

Many of the allegations center on what police have heard from Alberto Youssef, a convicted black-market money dealer who was among those charged Thursday. He has said that he laundered hundreds of millions in the scheme and that the governing party benefited from it.

Youssef, who is talking to police in exchange for less jail time, claims recently re-elected President Dilma Rousseff and former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva knew about the kickbacks. He has offered no proof, and both leaders deny the allegation.

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