• Audit Court estimates surpass Petrobras' $1.6 billion estimate
  • Cartels allegedly inflated refining contracts 17 percent

Petroleo Brasileiro SA lost as much as 29 billion reais ($7.6 billion) from a cartel of suppliers who bribed officials at the state-controlled producer to win contracts at inflated prices, Brazil’s audit court, known as TCU, said in a document Wednesday.

The audit court’s figure surpasses Petrobras’s internal estimate of 6.2 billion reais. The audit court found overpricing of 17 percent at the the Rio de Janeiro-based producer’s refining unit, and the study also includes losses from alleged graft at other divisions. Petrobras didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail requesting comment.

“Everything indicates a monopolistic environment where a cartel of companies, in association with officials from the state company, distributed contracts among themselves, resulting in higher prices,” the audit court says in the document.

After more than 18 months, police and prosecutors have found that kickbacks have been widespread in contracts with state-controlled companies and state institutions. More than 110 people have been arrested since an investigation dubbed Carwash started in early 2014. The massive graft scandal has crippled Brazil’s economy and left President Dilma Rousseff fighting for her political survival.

Lower house President Eduardo Cunha told reporters in Brasilia on Wednesday he has accepted one of 34 requests to impeach the president on charges that range from illegally financing her re-election to doctoring fiscal accounts this year and last.

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