January 14, 2016 / 4:10 PM / 3 years ago

Brazil seeks deals with 10 companies in Petrobras scandal

BRASILIA, Jan 14 (Reuters) - The Brazilian comptroller general’s office is negotiating leniency deals with 10 companies implicated in the Petrobras corruption scandal and expects them to be concluded within the next six months, its acting director said on Thursday.

Carlos Higino, who took over last month, said agreements expected last year had been delayed by developments, including new criminal charges, but negotiations will speed up with new legislation that provides companies with more legal guarantees if they come clean.

Among the delayed accords was a $250 million bribery settlement by Dutch SBM Offshore NV, the world’s top oil production ship leaser, that would avoid it being barred from doing business with its biggest client, state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA.

In December, prosecutors charged 12 people with involvement in a bribery scheme involving SBM and Petrobras.

In addition to racketeering and corruption charges brought against former SBM executives, current executives Bruna Chabas and Sietze Hepkema were charged with “personal favoritism.” That is punishable with up to six months in jail but the sentence is usually commuted.

SBM Offshore said it is in discussions with authorities and declined further comment.

The alleged bribery in the SBM probe predates the better-known “Car Wash” investigation, a vast corruption probe focused on graft involving overpriced contracts between construction and engineering firms and Petrobras.

Higino did not name the companies that are negotiating leniency deals, but other officials have said they include Brazilian companies OAS, Galvão Engenharia, Engevix, Setal Óleo e Gás, UTC, Camargo Corrêa and Andrade Gutierrez.

“We expect to conclude the first agreements in the first quarter and the remainder in the first half of this year,” Higino, who took office after his predecessor was named planning minister, told Reuters.

Struggling to survive Brazil’s biggest ever corruption scandal and its worst recession in 25 years, President Dilma Rousseff’s government is keen to get the engineering firms working again to spur growth. Rousseff has said that, while corrupt individuals must be punished, companies should be saved from collapse.

Temporary legislation that needs Congressional approval was enacted by Rousseff to facilitate leniency deals by providing companies safeguards against prosecution if they admit misdeeds, pay penalties and return funds lost to the public coffers.

Brazilian prosecutors oppose the legislation because they believe it will hinder their efforts to root out corruption.

Higino said debarring companies from government contracts would lead to bankruptcies and the loss of billions of dollars in graft money, money that could be recovered through leniency accords.

“If they are debarred, not a cent will be returned,” he said. (Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Frances Kerry)

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