RIO DE JANEIRO, March 26 (Reuters) - The former chief executive officer of Petroleo Brasileiro SA, Maria das Graças Foster, on Monday said she was ashamed of a corruption scandal at the state-run oil company but denied any knowledge of alleged widespread bribery.
Foster, who resigned her post on Feb. 4, told a congressional committee in Brasilia that the company cannot be held accountable for the actions of a small group of individuals who criminally conspired to subvert internal controls.
Despite her belief that she and most of her fellow executives acted correctly, Foster, who worked at the company for nearly four decades, said she was ashamed by a scandal that will tarnish the company's name for a long time.
"I am effectively very embarrassed to look at you all, but I'm being very sincere," she told the congressional investigators . "I wish all of this was a lie and there was never any bribery."
Police and prosecutors, using testimony from former colleagues of Foster and her predecessor Jose Sergio Gabrielli, say politically appointed Petrobras executives conspired with construction and engineering companies to overcharge for contracts.
The extra payments were then kicked back to Petrobras executives and politicians in the form of bribes and political campaign donations. Gabrielli said that the political campaign contributions were made legally by the companies and had nothing to do with corruption.
"I must admit my feelings that all this happened outside of Petrobras, our internal resources were not able to investigate this," Foster said.
She apologized for not being "fully clear" with a previous congressional panel about the status of SBM Offshore NV , a Dutch oil production ship leaser that was the subject of bribery allegations.
She said she failed to initially tell Congress in May about all that she had learned in the Petrobras investigation of the SBM allegations or that those findings had led her to suspend some SBM contracts.
SBM is the world's largest operator of offshore production ships. Petrobras is the biggest user of such vessels. (Reporting by Jeb Blount and Marta Nogueira; editing by Andrew Hay)