Seadrill, Sapura latest firms targeted in Brazil's 'Car Wash' probe

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Brazilian and Dutch police executed dozens of search warrants on Wednesday as part of a corruption probe into offshore oil rig company Seadrill Ltd SDRL.OL and Malaysia's Sapura Energy Bhd SAEN.KL, as Brazil's famed 'Car Wash' corruption investigation eyes an increasing number of international firms.

FILE PHOTO: Petrobras logo. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes/File Photo/File Photo

In a statement, federal prosecutors in Brazil said they had carried out 25 searches, concentrated in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, while Dutch police had also carried out searches as part of a parallel investigation into the matter.

The prosecutors described the operation as an attempt to deepen ongoing probes into three contracts worth $2.7 billion signed between Sapura and state-run oil firm Petrobras in 2011. The contracts, for the construction and charter of three pipe-laying support vessels, known as PLSVs, are still in effect today, prosecutors said.

In the statement, prosecutors described an alleged scheme in which Sapura, a joint venture in Brazil between Sapura Energy and Oslo-listed Seadrill, allegedly paid bribes worth 1.5% of the contracts it won with Petrobras. Some of that bribe money appeared to have made its way back to two “high-ranking” Sapura Energy executives in Malaysia, prosecutors said, without providing names.

Sapura representatives in Brazil said in a Wednesday statement that the company would make itself available to investigators, adding that it did not yet have access to key parts of the investigation.

In a statement filed to the bourse on Thursday, Sapura Energy denied involvement in any form of bribery or corruption and said it had been cleared of all allegations in an earlier investigation by Brazilian authorities in 2016 and 2017.

Petroleo Brasileiro SA PETR4.SA, as Petrobras is formally known, said it had been recognized by authorities as the victim of graft schemes in recent years, adding that it has always cooperated with investigators and that no searches had been carried out at its headquarters on Wednesday.

Seadrill confirmed on Thursday that its Brazilian subsidiary was searched by federal police, adding that it is “cooperating fully” with the probe.

Since 2014, Brazilian prosecutors have been investigating contracting graft at Petrobras. The probes quickly expanded, leading to charges against hundreds of high-ranking businessmen and politicians throughout Latin America.

In recent years, several international companies have come into prosecutors' crosshairs, ranging from Danish shipping giant Maersk MAERSKb.CO to commodity trading behemoths Glencore PLC GLEN.L and Vitol SA.

Reporting by Gram Slattery; Additional reporting by Luciano Costa in Sao Paulo and Sabrina Valle and Rodrigo Viga Gaier in Rio de Janeiro, and Liz Lee in Kuala Lumpur; Editing by Sandra Maler and Nick Zieminski