Brazil executives linked to Petrobras case freed from prison, remain under house arrest

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RIO DE JANEIRO — Top executives from several big Brazilian construction and engineering firms left prison Wednesday but will remain under house arrest for their alleged roles in a big kickback scheme at state-run oil company Petrobras.

Among those released were Ricardo Pessoa, chief executive officer of UTC Engenharia, and Gerson Almada, vice presidentĀ of Engevix, two of Brazil's largest engineering companies. Seven other top executives from the companies OAS, Camargo Correa and Galvao Engenharia left their cells for home detention later Thursday.

Brazil's Supreme Court ruled Tuesday evening that the executives could await possible trials on corruption charges under house detention. Some had been jailed for nearly six months, with a federal judge in southern Brazil ruling they represented flight risks or could use their power to influence the investigation.

Prosecutors say they have uncovered the biggest corruption scheme ever to come to light in Brazil, alleging private companies paid bribes to politically appointed executives at Petrobras in return for winning inflated building contracts. The oil company said last week it estimates that it lost at least $2.1 billion to the scheme, which ran from about 2003 until 2012, according to some informant testimony.

In addition to dozens of executives facing charges in the case, the Attorney General's Office is investigating over 50 political figures, including 21 federal deputies and 12 congressmen, for alleged participation in the graft. Included among those under investigation are the leaders of both houses of congress.

So far, President Dilma Rousseff, who was chairwoman of the Petrobras board during most of the years the scheme played out, has not been implicated in the case. She has expressed strong support for the investigation and for holding the guilty accountable.

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