Seadrill, Sapura latest firms targeted in Brazil’s ‘Car Wash’ probe

The chief executive of Brazil's state-controlled oil company Petrobras, Roberto Castello Branco, says the global oil and gas industry is facing its worst crisis in the last century

Brazilian and Dutch police executed dozens of search warrants on Wednesday as part of a corruption probe into offshore oil rig company Seadrill Ltd and Malaysia’s Sapura Energy Bhd, as Brazil’s famed ‘Car Wash’ corruption investigation eyes an increasing number of international firms.

In a statement, federal prosecutors in Brazil said they had carried out 25 searches, concentrated in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, while Dutch police had also carried out searches as part of a parallel investigation into the matter.

The prosecutors described the operation as an attempt to deepen ongoing probes into three contracts worth $2.7 billion signed between Sapura and state-run oil firm Petrobras in 2011. The contracts, for the construction and charter of three pipe-laying support vessels, known as PLSVs, are still in effect today, prosecutors said.

In the statement, prosecutors described an alleged scheme in which Sapura, a joint venture in Brazil between Sapura Energy and Seadrill, allegedly paid bribes worth 1.5% of the contracts it won with Petrobras. Some of that bribe money appeared to have made its way back to two “high-ranking” Sapura Energy executives in Malaysia, prosecutors said, without providing names.

Sapura said in a statement it would make itself available to investigators, adding that it did not yet have access to key parts of the investigation.

In a statement filed to the bourse on Thursday, the company refuted involvement in any form of bribery or corruption and said it had been cleared of all allegations in an earlier investigation by Brazilian authorities in 2016 and 2017.

Petroleo Brasileiro SA, as Petrobras is formally known, said it had been recognized by authorities as the victim of graft schemes in recent years, adding that it has always cooperated with investigators and that no searches had been carried out at its headquarters on Wednesday.

Seadrill did not immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did Sapura Energy outside of business hours.

Since 2014, Brazilian prosecutors have been investigating contracting graft at Petrobras. The probes quickly expanded, leading to charges against hundreds of high-ranking businessmen and politicians throughout Latin America.

In recent years, several international companies have come into prosecutors’ crosshairs, ranging from Danish shipping giant Maersk to commodity trading behemoths Glencore PLC and Vitol SA.

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