(In 10th paragraph corrects to say Petrobras debt in 2002 was 33 billion reais, not dollars. Adds end of first quarter time period and value of debt in reais in same paragraph.)
BRASILIA/RIO DE JANEIRO, May 19 (Reuters) - Brazil’s interim President Michel Temer named Pedro Parente chief executive officer of state-led oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA on Thursday as his government tries to kick-start a shrinking economy and shore up the debt-laden oil producer.
Parente, an engineer, former Bunge Ltd executive and one-time chief of staff to former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, replaces Aldemir Bendine, according to the president’s office. Bendine had been running Petrobras, as the company is known, for the last 15 months.
Petrobras did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the appointment.
Parente, 63, will be charged with efforts to rescue Petrobras from financial crisis brought on by low world oil prices, crippling debt and a massive corruption scandal.
Parente is best known for his role as chairman of the Brazil unit of agribusiness and commodities-trading giant Bunge Ltd from 2010 to 2014. Bunge is Brazil’s largest grains exporter.
The appointment also marks Parente’s return to Petrobras after 14 years. He sat on Petrobras’ board under former Brazilian President Cardoso. Parente was a key player in opening Petrobras to competition and international investment after the Cardoso administration ended Petrobras’ monopoly over exploration and production in 1997.
From 1999-2002 he also served as Cardoso’s chief of staff and managed a severe energy crisis that required electricity rationing and the quick building of supplementary power stations. He also helped manage a reduction of the government’s stake in Petrobras.
The Petrobras he will take over, pending approval by the company’s board of directors, will be quite different than the one he left. Petrobras invested $4.91 billion in 2002, Parente’s last year on the board. A decade later Petrobras was investing nearly $50 billion a year and despite major cutbacks still plans to spend $19 billion this year.
Despite the nearly ten-fold increase in investment, Petrobras has struggled in recent years to increase domestic oil production as much as expected, missing annual targets for 12 straight years.
Meanwhile, its total debt soared faster than output to about 450 billion reais, or nearly $130 billion, at the end of the first quarter from 33 billion reais ($9.32 billion) in 2002. Petrobras is now the most indebted oil company in the world. Plans to sell $14 billion of assets have stalled, forcing more cuts.
Temer, who replaced suspended President Dilma Rousseff last week while she faces an impeachment trial, chose Parente on Monday, according to a report on the Web site of the O Globo daily newspaper.
$1 = 3.5634 Brazilian reais Reporting by Lisandra Parguassu, additional reporting and writing by Jeb Blount; Editing by Dan Grebler