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Brazil opens probe into Dutch oil services company linked to Petrobras

Source: Mon, 7 Apr 2014 22:15 GMT
Author: Reuters
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View of the final stage of construction of a new oil and gas production platform for the oil company Petrobas, at a shipyard west of Rio de Janeiro. Angra dos Reis, February 24, 2011. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes
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RIO DE JANEIRO - Brazil's comptroller general has opened an investigation into the lease by Dutch oil services company SBM Offshore NV of oil production ships to state-run oil company Petrobras, widening a probe into alleged bribery.

In February, allegations from a former SBM employee came to light suggesting SBM paid $250 million in bribes, with $139 million of that paid in Brazil to Petrobras officials through an intermediary.

An internal Petrobras probe found no evidence of wrongdoing.

"The Petrobras investigation was well done, especially if we consider the restriction of having to complete their work in 45 days," Jorge Hage, head of the comptroller general's office known as CGU, said in a statement last week. "The final Petrobras report will be useful as a starting point for our work."

SBM said on Wednesday that it had found evidence its agents may have bribed officials in Angola and Equatorial Guinea but nothing concrete that bribes were paid in Brazil. The comptroller announced its probe the same day in a statement in the Diario Official, the Brazilian federal government publication used to make official announcements. While the announcement made no direct mention of Petrobras or SBM, an official said it involved the companies.

Hage also said in his statement that Petrobras faced restrictions on how and where it could investigate because its legal powers are limited.  

PRESSURE BUILDS

The CGU investigation, which will take 30 days, adds to growing pressure on Brazil's government over alleged mismanagement and bribery at Petrobras, where Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was chairwoman of the board of directors from 2003 to 2010.

Opposition politicians have seized on alleged cost overruns at Brazilian and U.S. refineries and on the SBM case to attack Rousseff's record as an administrator ahead of the October general elections. Lawmakers have obtained signatures from a sufficient number of legislators to install a formal probe. They have also set up a panel to accompany investigations of the SBM-Petrobras case. 

The SBM probe began nearly two years ago. At the time, executives of the company, the world's largest leaser of floating oil production ships, known as FPSOs, discovered evidence that officials may have paid bribes to representatives of two West African countries and one, then unnamed, country.

Eight of SBM's 17 FPSOs are in Brazil, where it also has three onshore bases and a shipyard.

SBM informed Dutch, British and U.S. officials of its probe in 2012, and those countries have opened investigations into the bribery allegations. The CGU has already consulted with both countries on the issue, the CGU press office said.

In March, Brazil's Federal Police said it was opening its own investigation.

(Additional reporting by Stella Dawson; jeb.blount@thomsonreuters.com))

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