Brazil minister raises prospect of Petrobras privatization

Tanks of Brazil's state-run Petrobras oil company are seen in Brasilia, Brazil, August 31, 2017. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil’s mines and energy minister, Fernando Coelho Filho, said on Tuesday that President Michel Temer’s government is not planning to privatize state-controlled oil company Petróleo Brasileiro SA, after saying the previous evening that such a sale could be possible one day.

“We are not dealing with that at this time. We are currently focused on (the sale of) Eletrobras,” he told reporters, referring to the state-controlled power sector holding company, Centrais Elétricas Brasileiras SA.

In a television interview on Monday night, Coelho Filho said the privatization of Petrobras would be feasible in the long run, a surprising remark that added fuel to the controversy over state asset sales in Brazil.

“I think it is going to happen. It is a way,” the minister said.

Temer has said that, despite his government’s aggressive moves to privatize state companies to help reduce a budget deficit, there was no plan to sell the national oil company. Speaking at a Reuters Newsmaker event in New York on Sept 20, Temer said Petrobras, a symbol of national sovereignty, would remain under government control.

Meanwhile, Temer’s government is pushing ahead with the sale of Eletrobras.

Coelho, speaking to reporters after a congressional committee hearing, said he expects the legal and financial framework to sell control of Eletrobras to be ready this month, before it is sent to lawmakers.

Government sources told Reuters last month it could take until December before that privatization framework was ready.

Coelho Filho said in the television interview that the sale will include Eletrobras units Furnas Centrais Elétricas SA and Companhia Hidro Elétrica do São Francisco SA, known was Chesf.

Reporting by Leonardo Goy in Brasília and Ana Mano in São Paulo; Editing by Steve Orlofsky