RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 20 (Reuters) - A Brazilian judge dropped criminal charges against Chevron Corp, Transocean Ltd and 17 employees resulting from a 2011 offshore oil spill, three sources with direct knowledge of the case told Reuters on Wednesday.
Last March a Brazilian prosecutor filed criminal charges against the companies and employees of both, including Chevron's former Brazil unit president George Buck. The charges came after a 3,600 barrel spill in the Frade Field northeast of Rio de Janeiro.
The sources requested anonymity because their employers do not allow them to speak about the case.
The criminal charges carried potential jail terms of up to 31 years, and came in conjunction with civil lawsuits seeking as much as 40 billion reais ($20.4 billion).
Prosecutors can still appeal the ruling dismissing the charges, one of the sources said.
The Frade field is 52 percent owned by Chevron, 30 percent by Brazil's state-led Petroleo Brasileiro SA and 18 percent by Frade Japão, a group owned by Japanese trading companies Inpex Corp and Sojitz Corp.
Petrobras, as the Brazilian company is known, Sojitz and Inpex were never charged in relation to the spill.