(Adds additional information on charges, probe background)
SAO PAULO, Sept 1 (Reuters) - The former chief executive of Brazil’s nuclear power company was formally charged on Tuesday with accepting bribes in a corruption scheme to loot federal utility Eletrobras by the same kind of overbilling and bribery that occurred at state-run oil company Petrobras.
Othon Luiz Pinheiro da Silva, the former CEO, took bribes totaling 4.5 million reais ($1.22 million) from construction and engineering firms Andrade Gutierrez and Engevix, according to charges presented by prosecutors and published in a court document.
Pinheiro, in jail since July 28, resigned in early August as the head of Eletronuclear, the nuclear power subsidiary of Centrais Eletricas Brasileiras SA, the state-run utility holding company known as Eletrobras.
The payments were allegedly made to fix the bidding process and increase prices for work on the Angra 3 nuclear power plant, under construction west of Rio de Janeiro.
The charges come after more than a year and a half of investigations and arrests by police and prosecutors in Curitiba, Brazil. The investigation first focused on price-fixing, bribery and political-campaign kickbacks at Petroleo Brasileiro SA, Brazil’s state-run oil company.
The scheme, police and prosecutors say, was run by a cartel of about two-dozen construction companies and key politicians and company executives.
“The cartel naturally expanded using the same modus operandi and the same companies (as in the case of Petrobras) to take part in Eletronuclear tenders,” the charging document said.
In addition to executives from Brazil’s oil, construction and electricity industries, the dragnet has snared politicians, including the leader of the lower house of Congress and a former president. ID:nL1N10V2PO]
The corruption investigations, known as “Operation Car Wash,” have also caused the country’s biggest oil and heavy-construction industries to grind to a halt, slowing an already weak economy. [
Eletrobras and Petrobras are two of the country’s biggest investors in major hydrodams, power stations, refineries and other essential energy infrastructure.
Pinheiro, a retired admiral in Brazil’s Navy, is considered a father of Brazil’s nuclear industry and was deeply involved in a now aborted attempt to build a nuclear bomb and ongoing plans to build a fleet of nuclear attack submarines.
Fourteen others, including Pinheiro’s daughter and six Andrade Gutierrez executives, were also charged with crimes such as money-laundering and offering or receiving bribes.
The judge receiving the charges must approve them for the cases to proceed.
$1 = 3.68 Brazilian reais Reporting by Jeb Blount and Asher Levine; Editing by Paul Simao and Steve Orlofsky