Petrobras received bids for fuels unit in recent days: CEO

BRASILIA (Reuters) - The new chief executive of Petroleo Brasileiro SA on Thursday said the state-run oil company has received offers to buy a stake in its fuels-retailing unit BR Distribuidora SA in recent days, boosting plans to raise cash and cut debt.

New chief executive of Brazil's state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA, Pedro Parente, gestures during his inauguration ceremony in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 2, 2016. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes

Pedro Parente did not say who made the offers or how much of the unit was being sold. He made the remarks to the GloboNews 24-hour cable network in his first TV interview since taking office June 1.

Parente has said that Petrobras, as the company is known, must speed up a $14 billion divestment plan to shed fields, distribution systems, hydrocarbon processing units, power plants and other operations that offer lower returns than its core offshore oil and gas production business.

Without the sales, he said, Petrobras will make little progress cutting its $130 billion debt, the largest in the oil industry. Nor will it be able to afford development of new discoveries that are among the world’s largest.

The government has earmarked royalties from those areas for health care and education and is counting on oil to boost industrial development.

Parente said he has not discussed the sale of its stake in Braskem SA, Latin America’s biggest petrochemical company, an asset many believe to be on offer. Petrobras is Braskem’s No. 2 shareholder.

Brazil’s interim-President Michel Temer picked Parente to restore Petrobras’ financial health in the face of a corruption scandal, debt and falling crude prices. Reviving investment at Petrobras, responsible for about 10 percent of Brazil’s GDP, is key to Temer’s goal of ending the country’s deepest recession in decades.

Parente also said an internal Petrobras probe of contract-fixing, bribery and political-kickbacks will continue with the full support of the board of directors.

Few Petrobras employees were involved in diverting billions of dollars of investment to favored contractors, executives and politicians, he said.

The vast majority are honest and free of blame in the conspiracy under investigation in Brazil, the United States and Europe, he added.

Temer has himself been implicated in the scandal, a little more than a month after taking over from suspended-President Dilma Rousseff who now faces a Senate trial for allegedly breaking budget laws.

In a plea-bargain agreement published by Brazilian prosecutors on Wednesday, the former head of a Petrobras’ shipping and gas-pipeline unit said Temer asked him for cash from the scheme to finance an ally’s political campaign.

Rousseff was chairwoman of Petrobras’ board for seven years when much of the criminal activity took place. Both Temer and Rousseff deny any involvement in the scandal.

Two members of Temer’s cabinet resigned in his first fortnight in office due to allegations they had tried to obstruct the Petrobras investigation. His tourism minister quit on Thursday after a new graft allegation.

Parente reaffirmed support for a bill in Congress to drop the legal requirement that Petrobras lead and finance at least 30 percent of all new development in Brazil’s most promising oil region, a move that would open the area to more foreign investment.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Writing by Jeb Blount; Editing by Sandra Maler, Andrew Hay and Michael Perry