U.S. Alerted in Brazil’s Foreign Supplier Probe, Prosecutor Says

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Former Petroleo Brasileiro Executive Paulo Roberto Costa
Former Petroleo Brasileiro SA executive Paulo Roberto Costa arrives for a Parliamentary Commission of Enquiry at the National Congress in Brasilia, on Dec. 2, 2014. Photographer: Evaristo Sa/AFP via Getty Images

Prosecutors investigating Brazil’s largest corruption scandal say they notified the U.S. Department of Justice of evidence that at least four foreign companies allegedly paid bribes to win Petroleo Brasileiro SA contracts.

The allegations are against units or affiliates of Samsung Heavy Industries Co., Skanska AB, AP Moeller-Maersk A/S and Toyo Engineering Corp., Carlos Lima, the senior prosecutor in a nine-member task force, said in an interview. Companies could face charges in Brazil that would restrict local operations as well as possible sanctions under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, he said last week from Curitiba, Brazil.

“We’ve had a meeting in the U.S. about it. The Americans like to know who are involved,” Lima said. “These companies can be accountable under the FCPA.”

Samsung Heavy Industries “has not been contacted by any law enforcement authorities regarding this issue,” it said by e-mail. Toyo and its Brazilian affiliate “are entirely unrelated to the bribery scandal of Petrobras,” the Japanese firm said in an e-mailed response. Maersk said bribes are strictly forbidden for any employee or third party, commissions were paid within industry norms and it found no indication of improper activity. The Copenhagen-based company said it has not been contacted by authorities. Skanska said in an e-mailed response that it has zero tolerance for unethical business practices and is undertaking an internal investigation.

Petrobras, as the oil producer at the center of a yearlong investigation is known, booked a 6.2 billion-real ($2 billion) writedown on 2014 results from a scheme that allegedly involved contractors bribing executives to inflate prices, with politicians receiving kickbacks.

Offshore Contracts

Petrobras, which prosecutors see as a victim of individual executives, is controlled by the state and its employees are deemed to be public officials. The DOJ declined to comment on its role in the investigation in an e-mailed response. Petrobras didn’t reply to requests for comment.

The list delivered to the DOJ may grow with investigators building evidence that alleged bribes to secure Petrobras contracts from international suppliers -- either directly or through intermediaries -- wasn’t uncommon, Lima said. Without proof, testimonies may be dismissed, he said.

“You have a lot of that in big offshore contracts,” he said. “An intermediary would end up paying the bribes, in theory without the company’s knowledge, but the company is responsible for its agents.”

State’s Evidence

Last year, the DOJ was investigating alleged improper payments from agents working with Dutch supplier SBM Offshore NV to companies including Petrobras. The U.S. probe was dropped after the supplier of floating oil platforms agreed to pay $240 million to the Netherlands’s prosecution office to settle the case in November, SBM said in a statement at the time.

Brazilian investigators are sending updates of the investigation to DOJ officials, who are showing interest in following the case, Lima said. “These facts are already known by American authorities -- the ones companies are afraid of.”

Prosecutors are gathering documentation that supports testimonies from people collaborating in the case in exchange for lighter sentences, including intermediaries and former Petrobras executives, Lima said.

One of them, Julio Camargo, said he intermediated business between Petrobras and companies including Samsung and Toyo ventures, sharing proceeds with Petrobras executives including Paulo Roberto Costa and Pedro Barusco, according to documents published on the Parana state judiciary website. Both Costa and Barusco also turned state’s witness.

Cartel Accusation

One letter dated Jan. 9, 2007 shows Samsung appointing Camargo’s firm Piemonte as its exclusive local agent for a drill-ship deal, for which Camargo said he received $40 million paid into a bank account in Uruguay, the documents show. One of the Petrobras executives who allegedly authorized the deal, Nestor Cervero, was convicted on May 26 for money laundering.

A unit of Stockholm-based Skanska will be part of a cartel accusation that prosecutors are preparing to lodge in the coming months, Lima said. He urged suppliers to undertake independent internal investigations and inform authorities about the results.

The DOJ and the Securities and Exchange Commission enforce the FCPA, which bars companies from bribing foreign officials to obtain or retain business. Since 2009, the DOJ has convicted more than 50 individuals in FCPA and related cases, and resolved criminal cases against more than 50 companies with penalties and forfeiture of about $3 billion.

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