Brazil Senate opens inquiry into Petrobras mismanagement, bribes

miércoles 14 de mayo de 2014 16:03 GYT

By Anthony Boadle

BRASILIA May 14 (Reuters) - Brazil's Senate opened an inquiry on Wednesday into alleged corruption and mismanagement at state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA, a probe that could complicate President Dilma Rousseff's bid for reelection in October.

A panel of senators will look into the costly purchase of a refinery in Pasadena, Texas, for which critics say Petrobras paid 20 times the market value.

The senators will also probe allegations that Petrobras officials took bribes in exchange for steering contracts to SBM Offshore NV, a Dutch oil-production ship leasing company, as well as investigating alleged overpricing in the building of refineries in Brazil.

The hearings will fan unwelcome controversy for Rousseff, who was chairwoman of the Petrobras board when the Pasadena refinery deal was signed in 2006. Her energy policies since taking office, including controls on gasoline prices in Brazil, have also eroded the company's profitability.

Fallout from the Petrobras scandal has helped bring down Rousseff's approval ratings as she gears up to seek a second term in a tighter-than-expected presidential race.

Opposition senators, however, boycotted the Senate inquiry because they are holding out for a joint-chamber congressional probe that would be harder for the government to control. The lower house of Congress could vote on Thursday for a bicameral inquiry, which in practice would supersede the Senate inquiry.

Rousseff said in March that the board she headed approved the $370 million purchase of a 50 percent stake in Pasadena Refining System Inc from Belgium's Astra Oil Trading NV. She said she was unaware of a put option that forced Petrobras to buy the remaining stake as part of a $820.5 million legal settlement.

The current chairman of the board, Finance Minister Guido Mantega, told a congressional hearing on Wednesday that he opposed the purchase of the remaining 50 percent of the refinery but the case went to arbitration and Petrobras lost.   Continuación...