Brazil's Odebrecht open to foreign partner for construction unit

SAO PAULO, Aug 6 (Reuters) - The construction unit of Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht SA is seeking to win $18 billion in engineering contracts in the next two years and could partner with a strategic foreign investor, the unit’s chief executive, Fabio Januário, told Reuters.

Januário said a foreign partner could help to reduce dependence on Brazil’s oil and gas sector, whose fortunes have swung sharply over the past decade with the price of crude oil. “We are open to partners, but it has to be someone who gives us that,” Januário said during an interview on Friday.

The engineering group reached an accord with lenders for loans worth 2.6 billion reais ($699 million) about three months ago, giving the Brazilian conglomerate at the center of a corruption scandal two years to maneuver after flirting with the risk of default.

Januário said he expects Brazil’s construction sector to rebound after a presidential election in October. The backlog for Odebrecht Engenharia & Construção SA has shrunk to $14 billion, down 50 percent since the end of 2014.

After signing a new leniency deal with Brazilian authorities in July, Odebrecht is seeking new agreements in other countries in which it operates as a way to resume operations outside Brazil.

Odebrecht has already signed deals with Ecuador, Panama, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic and the United States. In Peru, Januário said the company expects to reach a deal in up to 45 days.

$1 = 3.72 reais Reporting by Aluisio Alves Writing by Carolina Mandl Editing by Paul Simao