Petrobras probe could lead to oil firm hiring more foreign contractors
RIO DE JANEIRO Dec 30 (Reuters) - Brazil's state-run oil firm Petrobras said on Tuesday it may increase the number of foreign companies it works with after banning several Brazilian contractors because police have implicated them in a kickback scheme at the company.
Brazil's oil industry has been heavily protected since vast oil reserves were discovered off its coast last decade, giving a significant advantage to locally based companies.
A widening corruption probe by police, however, has implicated dozens of Brazilian construction firms in conspiring to inflate the cost of contracts with Petrobras and then kick back proceeds to executives, politicians and political parties as bribes and campaign contributions.
On Monday, Petrobras said it had frozen payments to 23 companies and banned them from bidding for future work.
This has left a potential squeeze on talent as Petrobras seeks to ramp up production from offshore discoveries as part of the oil industry's largest investment program.
In an emailed response to questions, Petrobras said it would look to hire companies able to offer competitive services, adding that "this could, eventually, involve foreign companies."
As for so-called local content rules, the company said that "if this becomes an obstacle to achieving targets, Petrobras will seek alternatives to resolve this issue." (Reporting by Gustavo Bonato and Stephen Eisenhammer; Editing by Grant McCool)
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