BRASILIA, Dec 17 (Reuters) - Brazil's Prosecutor-General Rodrigo Janot suspects jailed financier André Esteves of paying bribes to buy African assets from Brazilian state oil firm Petroleo Brasileiro SA (Petrobas), newspaper Estado de S. Paulo said on Thursday.
According to Estado, the suspicion arose from a plea bargain deal by lobbyist Fernando Soares in the Petrobras corruption investigation and has been incorporated into the case against Esteves.
Esteves' lawyer Antonio Carlos de Almeida Castro denied the allegations published by Estado. Petrobas and the Prosecutor-General's office were not immediately available for comment.
The Estado report comes as the court prepares to meet on Thursday to rule on a petition by Esteves' lawyers to release the billionaire banker on grounds that prosecutors have failed to produce evidence that he committed any crimes.
Esteves and Senator Delcídio do Amaral, the former leader of Brazil's governing coalition in the upper house, were arrested on Nov. 25 on suspicion of obstructing "Operation Car Wash", a sweeping probe into corruption at Petrobras.
On Wednesday, newspaper Valor Economico reported Janot said evidence showed Esteves "was part, consciously and willingly, of a scheme that created a cartel" through dealings with Petrobras .
Janot alleged in a Dec. 7 document sent to Supreme Court justices that Esteves and Grupo BTG Pactual SA, the bank he helped found six years ago, profited from those dealings, said Valor, which obtained a copy of the filing.
Esteves' lawyer Castro also denied the allegations in Valor. BTG Pactual and Petrobras did not immediately comment. Media representatives at the prosecutor-general's office in Brasilia did not immediately comment.
Esteves, detained in a Rio de Janeiro prison, has relinquished his executive duties at BTG Pactual and exited the holding that controls the bank days after his arrest.
A Supreme Court judge authorized the arrests after prosecutors presented a taped conversation in which Amaral tried to bribe former Petrobras executive Nestor Cerveró out of taking a plea bargain that could implicate the senator, Esteves and other politicians.
Prosecutors alleged that Amaral conspired to help Cerveró flee authorities. They said the senator offered a monthly stipend to the former executive's family, financed by Esteves.
Amaral exempted Esteves from any involvement in the attempted bribery.
According to documents produced by Amaral's defense that Reuters had access to, the senator's mention of Esteves in taped conversations was a bluff to give Cervero's family the impression they would be taken care of. (Reporting by Silvio Cascione and Guillermo Parra-Bernal; Editing by Gareth Jones)