BTG's Petrobras Africa Purchase Cited by Senator in Plea Bargain

  • BTG paid $1.5 billion for assets said valued at $2.7 billion
  • Senator said BTG's Esteves had access to wittness testimony

Grupo BTG Pactual allegedly underpaid for oil assets in Africa it bought from Petroleo Brasileiro SA in 2013, a Brazilian senator said in a plea-bargain deal published by the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

The Sao Paulo-based bank paid $1.5 billion for a 50 percent stake in Petrobras’s Africa division. That was less than the $2.7 billion valuation estimate from consulting companies hired by the oil producer to review the divestment, Senator Delcidio Amaral said in the document, citing information obtained from Petrobras executives. 

BTG said in an e-mail that its offer for Petrobras’s assets in Africa was the highest in an auction to which 14 other players were invited to participate. It was considered fair by Standard Chartered Bank, the financial adviser hired by the oil company, BTG added. Petrobras and Esteves’s lawyer didn’t immediately reply to requests for comment.

Amaral, President Dilma Rousseff’s former leader in the Senate, was arrested on Nov. 25 on allegations he and three other people, including Esteves, tried to interfere in the testimony of Nestor Cervero, a former Petrobras executive under investigation. He agreed to a plea bargain, which was accepted by the Supreme Court on Tuesday. Esteves, who was put under house arrest in December after stepping down as BTG’s chief executive officer and chairman, has denied any wrongdoing through his lawyers. Amaral has been under house arrest since February.

Amaral, who headed one of Petrobras’s divisions from 1999 to 2001, said Esteves had agreed to provide about 1.5 million reais ($400,000) to Cervero’s family to keep his name out of any testimony but later abandoned that plan. The senator also said that Cervero’s plea bargain, a sealed document, was leaked to Esteves.

Petrobras has been at the center of a scandal where high-ranking company executives allegedly colluded with contractors to overcharge for projects in order to pay kickbacks and help finance political campaigns. Brazil’s former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has also been implicated in the scandal, which is fueling impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff.

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