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Maersk rejects claims of bribery over Brazil shipping contracts

May 25, 2014 8:09 pm

By Joe Leahy in São Paulo

The Denmark-based Maersk Group has rejected allegations that it bribed an official of Brazil’s state-owned Petrobras to accept shipping contracts.

According to the claims, which surfaced over the weekend in the Brazilian magazine Época, Maersk paid commissions to a Brazilian broker, Gandra Brokerage, which paid bribes to Paulo Roberta Costa, who was then head of refining and fuel supply at Petrobras, in exchange for tanker contracts.

Maersk denied paying any bribes, saying the use of brokers in the shipping industry was standard practice and that all payments made to Gandra had been made through normal banking channels in Brazil with invoices. 

It said it had no contracts with Mr Costa.

“The Maersk Group reiterates its policy of working against corruption,”
the company said.

The allegations came as part of a widening investigation by federal police into money laundering and inflated invoicing involving Petrobras officials.

The accusations are politically sensitive for President Dilma Rousseff, a former technocrat who chaired Petrobras for several years before she was elected president at the end of 2010. She is standing for re-election in October.

The opposition has pushed through a congressional inquiry into Petrobras, which will examine in particular its acquisition of a refinery in the US at a price critics say was inflated. 

Ms Rousseff and former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva have dismissed the effort as politically motivated.

The Maersk case shows the difficulties for foreign enterprises of doing business with state-owned companies in Brazil, particularly during election years.

Época alleged that Mr Costa received R$6.2m ($2.8m) in commissions between 2006 and 2010 via the brokerage Gandra.

But Maersk said it had been doing business with Petrobras for “many years” and that in 1977 it had incorporated its business in Rio de Janeiro to strengthen its presence in Brazil.

“In the global tanker and gas-carrier trades, it is normal and customary to use brokers, who provide external marketing assistance to promote the tanker-operators’ services to the many customers in the many different countries,”
Maersk said. 

“Maersk Tankers also does that in Brazil, including with Petrobras.”

It said Maersk Tankers paid Gandra the “standard industry rate” commission of 1.25 per cent.

“The tankers and gas carriers on charter to Petrobras are all involved on fixed contracts at the prevailing market levels of the time,” the Danish company said.

“Maersk again reiterates, in line with its policy, that it works against all types of corruption and conforms to legislation.”

Mr Costa and Gandra were not available for comment. But Mr Costa is fighting allegations against him regarding Petrobras in court.

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