Police ask that charges be filed against former head of Brazil's nuclear power company

Energy Associated Press

Police say they have asked prosecutors to file charges against the former head of Eletronuclear, the state-owned company that operates Brazil's two nuclear power plants, for his suspected role in a bribery scandal.

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A federal police spokesman who was not authorized to be quoted by name said late Thursday that the department wants prosecutors to charge Othon Luiz Pinheiro da Silva with money laundering and corruption for allegedly taking as much as $10 million in bribes from construction companies for contracts involving the construction of the Angra 3 nuclear plant in Rio de Janeiro.

Da Silva was taken into custody in late July and one week later stepped down as Eletronuclear's chief executive officer.

The spokesman said the department also wants charges filed against Flavio David Barra, the top energy executive at construction firm Andrade Gutierrez and da Silva's daughter Ana Cristina Toniolo for their suspected roles in the scheme.

Da Silva, his daughter and Barra have denied any wrongdoing.

During Brazil's military regime from 1964-1985, the retired navy admiral and nuclear engineer headed Brazil's secret program to master the technology needed to transform uranium into fuel to generate electric power in nuclear plants. Da Silva also oversaw the ongoing project to build a nuclear powered submarine.

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The request for charges to be filed come as police and prosecutors try to determine whether a kickback scheme engulfing state-run oil company Petrobras extends to other state firms, including electric utilities company Eletrobras, of which Eletronuclear is a subsidiary.

Prosecutors have said the scheme involved roughly $2 billion in bribes and other illegal funds. Some of that money was allegedly funneled back to the ruling Workers' Party and its allies' campaign coffers. It also allegedly included the payment of bribes to Petrobras executives in return for inflated contracts.

For Alexandre Barros, a political risk consultant with the Brasilia-based firm Early Warning, the Eletronuclear case shows that Petrobras-like corruption and kickback schemes are "probably present in other state-run companies."

"Schemes like these have long been part of our culture and I think other similar schemes start emerging all over the place", Barros said. "My big fear is that the armed forces may start feeling uneasy," he added, without elaborating.