NEWSMAKER-Petrobras' new CEO seen as loyal government footsoldier

viernes 6 de febrero de 2015 14:23 GYT

By Stephen Eisenhammer and Aluisio Pereira

RIO DE JANEIRO/SAO PAULO Feb 6 (Reuters) - Aldemir Bendine, the new chief of Brazil's embattled oil company Petrobras , spent recent years dutifully pushing the leftist government's economic agenda while also pleasing private shareholders - a tricky balance that will be key to his survival in a much tougher job.

While many investors had hoped for a more independent figure, President Dilma Rousseff opted instead on Friday to choose a loyal footsoldier who has worked at the country's largest bank by assets, Banco do Brasil from the age of 15, eventually becoming its CEO.

Like Petrobras, Banco do Brasil is a hybrid - run by the government, but also accountable to private-sector shareholders. Under Bendine's leadership, the bank appealed to both groups, expanding loans to support the economy in the wake of the global financial crisis, while its shares soared about 90 percent.

Asked why Rousseff picked Bendine, an official close to her told Reuters: "Maybe because he (made) big profits while he was CEO?". The official noted the bank likely made about 12 billion reais ($4.4 billion) last year, up from 10.4 billion in 2013.

However, Petrobras will be an entirely different challenge for the 51-year-old of Italian descent, who worked his way up after starting as an intern, in part due to strong connections to Rousseff and her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Petrobras is ensnared in a huge graft and bribery scheme, with former executives accused of conspiring with construction and engineering firms to overcharge for projects and then kick money back to political parties, including Rousseff's own Workers Party.

Critics worry that Bendine's background and loyalty to Rousseff will make him less likely to push back against the heavy-handed government intervention many blame for the company's woes in recent years.

"His mission at Banco do Brasil was to carry out the wishes of the government," said John Forman, a consultant and former executive at oil regulator ANP.   Continuación...