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Bribe allegations hit Brazil oil giant Petrobras

Petrobras CEO Maria das Gracas Foster (image courtesy of Wikipedia)Brazil’s state-run energy giant Petroleo Brasileiro SA (Petrobras) is close to finishing an investigation into whether some of its officials accepted bribes from SBM Offshore NV, a service-boat supplier based in the Netherlands.

The Wall Street Journal reported reported Monday that Petrobras CEO Maria das Gracas Foster said an internal probe could be done by the end of March.

The investigation involves allegations that Petrobras officials accepted $139.2 million in bribes from SBM Offshore from 2007 to 2011.

Suspicions arose last year when a former SBM Offshore employee published online documents from the early stages of an internal audit on “potentially improper payments” made in several countries.

With $114.3 billion in debt, Petrobras is the most indebted oil company in the world, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Brazil is set to hold presidential elections in October. The government plays an active role in Petrobras’ decision-making, the WSJ said. Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega serves as Petrobras’ chairman.

Brazil’s Congress voted to create a commission to investigate the bribery accusations last week.

The Brazil federal police are also investigating the SBM Offshore allegations.

The police are also reportedly looking into possible irregularities in Petrobras’ purchase of an oil refinery near Houston, Texas. The company allegedly paid about $1.2 billion to acquire the refinery from the previous owner, Dutch commodities trader Transcor Astra Group SA, which had bought it for about $60 million in 2005.

SBM Offshore issued a statement saying leaked documents that appear to implicate Petrobras are outdated.

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Julie DiMauro is the executive editor of FCPA Blog and can be reached here.

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