Alberto Youssef, a convicted money launderer and former bon vivant, sat in aBrazilian jail cell in March of last year, getting ready to tell his lawyers a story.It was about an elaborate bribery scheme involving Petrobras, thegovernmentcontrolled oil giant. He opened with a dire prediction.
“Guys,” Mr. Youssef said, “if I speak, the republic is going to fall.”To those lawyers, Tracy Reinaldet and Adriano Bretas, who recently recounted the conversation, this sounded a tad melodramatic. But then Mr.Youssef took a piece of paper and started writing the names of participants inwhat would soon become known as the Petrobras scandal. Mr. Reinaldet looked at the names and asked, not for the last time that day, “Are you serious?”
“We were shocked,” he recalled, sitting in a conference room in his lawoffice in downtown Curitiba, the capital of the southern state of Paraná, onemorning in June. “It was kind of like, in Brazil, we know that corruption is amonster. But we never really see the monster. This was like seeing the monster.”
To date, 117 indictments have been issued, five politicians have been arrested, and criminal cases have been brought against 13 companies.Petrobras officials have pegged the total of all bribes at nearly $3 billion, a figure that makes the scandal at FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, seem like the work of amateurs.