RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Petróleo Brasileiro SA will not have to pay a significant amount to settle a U.S. Justice Department probe or a class action lawsuit over a corruption case at the Brazilian state-controlled oil company, Chief Executive Officer Pedro Parente told Reuters on Wednesday.
Investors have sued Petrobras, as the company is known, in New York, accusing it of covering up a sweeping graft scheme and publishing misleading accounts. They believe the corruption and mismanagement helped destroy nearly $200 billion of shareholder value in Petrobras’ since 2008.
Plaintiffs lawyers are seeking billions of dollars in recompense, but would not provide a specific number.
Petrobras could also face a payment to settle with the U.S. Justice Department.
“We are a victim. It does not make sense that we be obliged to pay a substantial sum in relation to these questions,” Parente said in an interview in his offices in Rio de Janeiro. “We do not understand or recognize that we ought to pay a relevant amount.”
The company’s U.S. legal woes, which stem from a giant price-fixing, bribery and political kick-back scheme that began unfolding in late 2014, will not “cast a shadow” over the implementation of a five-year $74.1 billion investment plan announced on Tuesday, Parente added.
“Unlike Enron, we didn’t benefit from the wrongdoing,” he said referring to the former U.S. energy trading company that collapsed during an accounting scandal more than a decade ago.
Petrobras will provide the public and investors with a new pricing policy “soon” for wholesale fuel sales, Parente said without giving a date for its release.
The policy will outline the principles used to decide when to change prices but will not provide the actual formulas used to set gasoline, diesel and other fuel prices.
Specific elements of this pricing policy, however, are needed so Petrobras can move ahead with plans to sell all or part of its Brazilian refinery system, he said.
Petrobras was forced for years to subsidize fuel in Brazil, helping it build up nearly $125 billion of debt, the largest in the oil industry.
The debt has been increasingly hard to refinance since the corruption scandal forced large write-downs on refineries and other assets. Petrobras is trying to recover losses on subsidies by keeping the price of fuel in Brazil above world market prices.
The company is also selling assets to help pay down its debt burden. One of the biggest assets on the block is a 51 percent voting stake in its fuels distribution unit, BR Distribuidora SA.
A previous bidding round for a minority stake in Brazil’s largest service station operator failed to attract bids that met Petrobras’ requirements.
Parente said a new blueprint for the sale of would be complete in about two weeks, with national and international investors expressing interest in the sale. (Additional reporting by Rodrigo Viga Gaier and Daniel Flynn)