SAO PAULO, May 7 (Reuters) - German engineering firm Bilfinger has become the first international company to disclose to Brazil that it may have paid bribes as it seeks leniency under a new anti-corruption law, Comptroller General Valdir Simão said on Thursday.
By reporting potential graft to the comptroller, known by the acronym CGU, Bilfinger hopes to continue operating in Brazil, Simão said, though it may still pay damages.
“The company knows it will be punished in Brazil; it is not exempt from fines,” Simao said at a conference in Sao Paulo adding that in exchange the company could be guaranteed the right to keep operating in Brazil.
Companies that are convicted for bribery could be banned from future contracts in Brazil under the law, which took effect in January 2014.
Bilfinger said in March that it may have paid 1 million euros to public officials in Brazil in connection with orders for large screens for security control centers during the 2014 soccer World Cup.
It is conducting an internal investigation and collaborating with Brazilian authorities, Bilfinger said in a statement at the time.
Five companies are pursuing leniency deals with the CGU, Simao said, adding that such deals are “quite new” for the country. Four are tied to a scandal at Brazil’s state-run oil firm Petroleo Brasileiro SA, he said.
The CGU is investigating 29 local engineering firms for allegedly forming a cartel to price-fix contracts and pass on bribes to politicians and political parties in what is thought to be Brazil’s largest-ever corruption scandal.
The government is counting on leniency deals to minimize economic fallout from the corruption investigation. As the scandal has deepened in recent months, key infrastructure projects have been suspended or scrapped, some suppliers have sought bankruptcy protection and job losses are mounting by the tens of thousands.
Brazilian engineering firm Engevix Engenharia SA said last month it had made progress towards such a deal and Dutch oil platform leasing firm SBM Offshore NV said in March it had agreed on a framework for such an agreement after it was convicted for bribery in the Netherlands.
Through leniency deals, the CGU hopes to identify more bribe payments, get proof of criminal activity and restore stolen funds, Simão said. Companies that sign such agreements can have potential fines reduced by up to two thirds. Normally, fines for bribery in Brazil are between 0.1 percent and 20 percent of a company’s gross revenue. (Reporting by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Christian Plumb)