By Sergio Spagnuolo
CURITIBA, Brazil (Reuters) - Brazilian police seized documents and questioned suspects on Thursday to investigate Panama's FPB Bank which allegedly worked with the "Panama Papers" law firm to spirit money out of Brazil connected to corruption at state-run companies.
Police said FPB Bank was under investigation for "financial crimes, laundering of assets and transnational criminal organization" for offering private banking services without the authorization of Brazil's central bank.
Offshore companies registered by the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, the subject of a massive data leak this year, allegedly helped FPB Bank get clients' money out of Brazil illegally, police said in a news conference.
Funds came in part from a multibillion-dollar price-fixing and bribery scheme at Brazil's state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA known as "Operation Car Wash," prosecutors added in a statement.
Thursday's raids widened the two-year-old Petrobras investigation, Brazil's biggest graft probe, that has overturned Brazilian politics and fed the movement to impeach President Dilma Rousseff on unrelated charges of breaking budget laws.
"Staff of the Panama-based bank in Brazil not only maintained a clandestine operation but also ensured their clients' anonymity by using offshores," federal prosecutors said.
An FPB Bank executive, Edson Paulo Fanton, was taken into custody for questioning in Santos, a port city near Sao Paulo, police said.
FPB Bank said in a statement that it has no operations in Brazil and that accusations that the lender is involved in the corruption scheme are "erroneous."
"FPB Bank Inc. does not have any links to the 'Operation Car Wash' in Brazil and is not a client or intermediary of Mossack & Fonseca," the lender said.
Brazilian police said other banks are being investigated but declined to disclose which ones. The probe may widen depending on evidence to include other crimes, police officer Rodrigo Sanfurgo told the press conference.
Prosecutors said they have identified 44 offshore companies registered by Mossack at FPB's request. The law firm's representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A central bank spokeswoman confirmed FPB Bank is not authorized to operate in Brazil.
Thursday's operation also included search-and-seizure raids in Sao Paulo, Santos and Sao Bernardo, strongholds of suspended President Rousseff's Workers Party, which ran the country for 13 years starting in 2003.
The Petrobras probe has resulted in the jailing and conviction of dozens of powerful executives and politicians for fixing contracts in return for political contributions and personal bribes.
(Reporting by Sergio Spagnuolo; Additional reporting by Silvio Cascione in Brasilia and Enrique Andres Pretel in Mexico City; Editing by James Dalgleish and Andrew Hay)