Brazil's Petrobras revisits whistleblowers in wake of trading scandal
By Gram Slattery
RIO DE JANEIRO, April 22 (Reuters) - Brazil's Petroleo
Brasileiro SA is re-examining its treatment of
whistleblower complaints after the indictment of six of the
state-run oil firm's traders in December indicated that efforts
to root out corruption had faltered, according to three people
familiar with the matter.
In recent weeks, officials at Petrobras, as the firm is
known, have summoned a number of current and former employees
who had flagged instances of corruption at the company,
particularly in relation to its trading operations, the sources
Company officials questioned the employees on how their
complaints had been handled, said the people, who requested
anonymity to discuss internal matters. Some of the employees
said they were unsatisfied with the company's response and
believed the wrongdoing was not addressed, sources said.
In a statement, Petrobras said it was not investigating its
controls but rather carrying out a thorough internal probe
relating to the December oil trading indictments, with some 27
professionals looking into the matter.
The firm said it could not go into detail regarding the
internal probe, citing the need to protect employees and the
integrity of the investigation.
The enquiry underlines how Petrobras is still working to
improve compliance and root out the graft at the center of
Brazil's five-year "Car Wash" investigation, considered by U.S.
law enforcement to be the largest corporate corruption case
The scandal has spread across Latin America, toppling
governments, destroying business empires and leading Peru's
former president Alan Garcia to kill himself last week to avoid
arrest in a related investigation.
Petrobras has said that a robust compliance department and
beefed up internal investigations team have helped it to correct
course since the Car Wash probes came to light in 2014 with
revelations about political bribes paid by contracting firms.
However, in December, Brazilian prosecutors blew the lid off
another kickback scheme, this time in the oil trading division
of Petrobras, which also implicated commodities trading giants
Glencore PLC, Vitol SA and Trafigura AG.
In March, Reuters reported that Petrobras officials had
known of problems in its oil trading operations for years,
although the company failed to quickly identify suspects and
sideline them from operations.
Of the six people indicted in December, one pled guilty to
conspiracy to commit money laundering and is cooperating with
U.S. authorities in a parallel investigation of the scheme,
Reuters reported in February.
Those indictments were focused on the company's Houston
trading desk. Some of the employees interviewed by Petrobras in
recent weeks had previously complained of irregularities at the
Singapore desk, the sources said, raising the possibility that
the probe could expand geographically.
Petrobras did not comment on those allegations.
According to documents sent to Brazilian federal police
investigators and seen by Reuters, a Singaporean employee
complained to Petrobras officials in December 2012 of irregular
trading of bunker fuel, which is used by ships.
A subsequent internal investigation found that Petrobras had
paid unusual premiums for a significant quantity of bunker fuel
in 2012, according to the documents, which were dated late 2012
and early 2013. Internal investigators recommended a series of
measures to improve transparency at the Singaporean trading
unit. It is unclear if those measures were carried out.
The federal police did not respond to a request for comment.
(Reporting by Gram Slattery
Editing by Brad Haynes and Rosalba O'Brien)
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