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RIO DE JANEIRO, Nov 17 (Reuters) - Brazil's state-run oil company Petrobras said on Monday it received a permit from the national oil regulator to begin atmospheric distillation at its Abreu e Lima refinery, marking one the last regulatory hurdles for the troubled project.
Petroleo Brasileiro SA, as Petrobras is officially known, received its operational license from Brazil's environmental agency Ibama in early November for the long-delayed and over-budget refinery also known as RNEST in the northeastern state of Pernambuco.
The refinery is at the center of the biggest corruption scandal to hit President Dilma Rousseff's government, which is accused of siphoning off funds from the company through inflated contracts with suppliers to fund political parties including the ruling Workers' Party.
Petrobras Chief Executive Maria das Gracas Foster, who held conference calls on Monday with analysts and reporters over the unfolding corruption investigations, said the refinery's final costs would likely come in under $20 billion.
The refinery was originally projected in 2007 to cost $7 billion. (Reporting by Jeb Blount and Marta Nogueira; writing by Reese Ewing; editing by Matthew Lewis)