Rolls-Royce has said it will co-operate with Brazilian authorities if they press ahead with an investigation into allegations that it paid bribes to win a contract from Petrobras, the state-owned oil company at the heart of a spiralling corruption scandal.
The British engineering company said on Monday it had not yet been contacted by Brazilian investigators but added: “We will take all necessary action to ensure compliance, including co-operating with authorities in any country.”
Rolls-Royce has been accused by a former Petrobras executive of paying bribes via an agent in exchange for a $100m contract to provide “modules of energy generation” for the oil company’s platforms. Rolls-Royce said it was unclear to which contracts the allegations referred.
It is the latest company to be caught up in a scandal that is threatening to engulf the government of Dilma Rousseff and push Petrobras in to technical default on its debt. Officials are investigating allegations that bribes were paid to company officials and politicians.
Rolls-Royce has worked with Petrobras for the best part of a decade and Brazil is one of the markets it has targeted for rapid growth. In its annual accounts last year it set a target to double revenues in Brazil by 2020. While the UK group does not break out Brazilian turnover, its sales in South America were £393m last year, out of a group total of £15.5bn.
Allegations over Petrobras contracts will intensify scrutiny of Rolls-Royce as it faces an ongoing criminal investigation by Britain’s Serious Fraud Office into claims of bribery and corruption in China and Indonesia. The US Department of Justice is looking at these allegations but has not launched a formal investigation.
Rolls-Royce has also been accused of corruption in India, although no formal probe is being conducted.
In the UK, the SFO began an inquiry after Rolls-Royce passed documents to it in December 2012. Within a month, the group had drafted in Tory peer and lawyer Lord Gold to help revamp its compliance procedures. Lord Gold oversaw BAE Systems’ compliance procedures after it was fined $400m by the US justice department for lying about its payments to middlemen.
Since Lord Gold’s appointment as an adviser, Rolls-Royce has dramatically reduced the number of middlemen it uses in foreign markets, though in its annual report last year it stated that these continued to be required in some countries. It has also appointed a director for risk and a head of risk training, as well as revamping its compliance procedures and code of conduct.
Analysts and investors indicated that they were relatively sanguine about the latest revelations, as investigations in the UK and elsewhere are likely to continue for some time — possibly even years. Analysts said investors’ focus is more on the group’s attempt to reboot profits growth in the face of tough industrial and competitive challenges.
“The share price fell first thing, then recovered; no one cares, as they didn’t with BAE and Saudi,” said one analyst. “A fine? A few million, perhaps, who cares? Even the China/Indonesia stories are a long way in the past, and investors are super-focused on the road to 2018: that’s what gets the share price to £20 or back to £5.”
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