UPDATE 2-New Fortress Energy to buy Hygo for $2.18 bln, setting foot on natural gas in Brazil

(Updates with context)

RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan 13 (Reuters) - Energy infrastructure company New Fortress Energy Inc said on Wednesday it would buy Hygo Energy Transition Ltd for $2.18 billion to expand its presence in Brazil, as South America’s largest market opens its natural gas industry to private investors.

Hygo is a 50-50% joint venture between Golar LNG and U.S. private equity firm Stonepeak Infrastructure Partners. The company transports liquefied natural gas (LNG) and has become a key player in the Brazilian industry as the local state-controlled company Petrobras sells assets to end what five years ago was a near monopoly in natural gas.

The acquisition of Hygo comes four months after the company’s debut trading in New York was suspended at the last minute due to an alleged involvement of its then chief executive in corruption.

The executive had been cited by witnesses in the early phases of a corruption probe in Brazil.

The witnesses said he allegedly would have taken part in a bribery negotiation in 2011 when employed by a different group, a claim the executive denied through his attorney. The executive, who hasn’t been charged, left Hygo.

The energy infrastructure company will acquire all of the outstanding shares of Hygo for 31.4 million shares of NFE Class A common stock and $580 million in cash. The transaction has a $3.1 billion enterprise value and a $2.18 billion equity value, according to the statement.

New Fortress also agreed to buy Golar LNG Partners LP for about $251 million, or $3.55 per common unit, in cash. The company has also agreed to acquire Golar LNG Partners’ general partner, with a total enterprise value of $1.9 billion.

Golar LNG Ltd shares were up 14.6% in early trade, while New Fortress Energy shares rose 10.2%. (Reporting by Sabrina Valle and Rithika Krishna; Editing by Maju Samuel, Krishna Chandra Eluri and Steve Orlofsky)