Brazilian lawmakers to monitor any probes of Petrobras bribery claims

BRASILIA/SAO PAULO, March 11 Tue Mar 11, 2014 10:00pm EDT

BRASILIA/SAO PAULO, March 11 (Reuters) - Brazil's lower house of Congress approved on Tuesday the creation of a special committee to monitor any probes in the Netherlands of allegations that a Dutch company paid bribes to officials at state-run oil company Petrobras.

By a vote of 267-28, the 513-seat lower house decided to create the committee despite opposition from President Dilma Rousseff's ruling Workers' Party, or PT.

Lawmakers from the PT questioned the decision to create the committee because no prosecutor in the Netherlands has yet opened a formal investigation into the allegations of bribery by oil vessel leasing company SBM Offshore NV.

The vote underscores a growing rift between the PT and the center-right PMDB, its largest partner in the ruling coalition, ahead of the October presidential election. In recent days, PMDB lawmakers have threatened to weaken the alliance with the PT because of what they see as the PMDB's shrinking role in the cabinet.

Brazilian media, citing a former SBM executive, reported last month that SBM allegedly paid bribes to win contracts for floating oil platforms with PetrĂ³leo Brasileiro SA, as the Brazilian state oil company is formally known.

An internal investigation at Petrobas was launched in February after the Rio de Janeiro-based company was linked to a 20-month probe of SBM Offshore's commercial activities. The allegations by the unidentified former SBM employee suggest that Petrobras officials were paid $139 million in bribes through an intermediary.

Efforts to reach Petrobras for comment after working hours were unsuccessful.

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