Brazil to probe Petrobras bribe claims

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Brazil will send a special commission to the Netherlands to look into allegations that state-run oil company Petrobras accepted bribes from Dutch ship leaser SBM Offshore in return for oil platform contracts.

The decision by Brazil’s lower house of Congress on Tuesday night comes as Petrobras carries out its own investigation into the claims of alleged bribes of $139m in the period between 2005 and 2012.

SBM, which relies on Petrobras for almost half of its revenue, opened an investigation in 2012 over improper payments in several countries but it has never named the countries or companies involved. The ship leaser declined to comment on Wednesday on whether Petrobras was involved.

However, the Brazilian newspaper Valor Econômico reported last month that Petrobras was part of SBM’s investigation, prompting the Brazilian company to announce an internal audit that is expected to be concluded this month. Petrobras has made no further statement.

The allegations represent yet another headache for the Rio de Janeiro-based company, which is facing a series of operational and financial challenges.

Last month Petrobras cut $16bn from its five-year investment plan as its finances have come under pressure from Brazil’s petrol subsidies, which force the company to import fuel at a loss to meet rampant domestic demand.

However, traders said many in the market saw the government’s decision to create a commission as largely politically motivated.

“The commission seems to be the result of infighting in Congress – so far these are only allegations and it’s not clear they will go any further than that,” said one equities trader at a São Paulo-based brokerage.

President Dilma Rousseff and her PT party had opposed the creation of a commission but coalition parties rebelled against her and helped vote it through Congress. Coalition parties are angry at the PT over what they see as attempts by Ms Rousseff to diminish their influence in the cabinet ahead of presidential elections in October.

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