Petrobras is considered Brazil’s largest ever corruption scandal. More than 40 people have been charged so far, with dozens of senior politicians and businessman under investigation, accused of colluding with Petrobras executives to receive illicit payments of over US$2bn.
Amaral became the first sitting senator to be arrested in the country as federal police, under orders from the STF, took him into custody at the Golden Tulip Hotel.
Also arrested today was multi-billionaire banker André Esteves, chief executive of the country’s largest investment bank, Banco BTG Pactual.
“[Mr Esteves] was arrested because he was allegedly involved in irregularities in operation Lava Jato,” said an STF spokesperson. “[Mr Amaral] was arrested because he was allegedly obstructing the investigations,” adding that Amaral’s arrest was “preventative”.
The minister in charge of the STF operation, Teori Zavascki, said he ordered the arrest to prevent Amaral from influencing Néstor Cervero, an ex-director of Petrobras who is currently negotiating a reduced sentence with court in exchange for his cooperation.
Zavascki said that the Federal Public Ministry (MPF) has evidence that Amaral offered Cerveró’s family 50,000 reais (around US$13,000) a month if he chose not to make a deal with the court.
According to the MPF, these payments were due to be financed by Esteves.
Financial markets reacted badly to the arrests, with the real weakening 1.9% against the US dollar to R$3.77 as fears spread of an aggravation to Brazil’s political and economic difficulties. Share prices in BTG fell 19.33% after news of Esteves’ arrest.
Amaral’s implication in the scandal is the latest in a string of Petrobras-related accusations against members of the PT, including former president Lula da Silva’s cabinet chief José Dirceu, which have contributed to the political crisis faced by President Dilma Rousseff.
Re-elected in October 2014, Rousseff ends the first year of her second term amid impeachment threats and approval ratings of just 10% while the Brazilian economy continues to flounder.
Senate president Renan Calheiros, from the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) said that this Wednesday’s senate session, in which new budget laws and fiscal targets for 2016 were due to be discussed, has been suspended.