By Peter Millard and Yasmine Batista
(Bloomberg) — Transocean Ltd., the world’s largest offshore rig contractor, is being linked for the first time to the corruption probe of Petroleo Brasileiro SA, the state-owned energy giant at the center of Brazil’s biggest corporate scandal.
A former executive at Brazil’s state-run oil company has testified to receiving what he says were payments made by someone claiming to be a Transocean agent in exchange for a rig- operation contract from Petrobras.
“Transocean has a long-standing commitment to and upholds the highest standards for corporate ethics and compliance,” the company said in an e-mailed response. “Our employees — and everyone conducting business on our behalf — are required to adhere to our high standards for integrity, honesty, financial discipline and legal and regulatory compliance.”
As a result of the probe into the alleged pay-to-play scheme, known as Carwash, Petrobras has temporarily blocked more than 20 suppliers from future work with the oil company, which claims it is a victim of the bribery and is cooperating with authorities. The scandal has spurred increased calls for President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment and the resulting political turmoil contributed to a sovereign downgrade to junk this month. Rousseff has said she knew nothing about wrongdoing at the time she was chairwoman of Petrobras and that her government will not stop short of uncovering the full truth.
Eduardo Musa, who has turned state’s witness in a probe by federal prosecutors into Petrobras, said he was offered the alleged Transocean payments by an individual he described as an assistant to Nestor Cervero, former head of Petrobras’s international division, in which Musa also worked, according to a transcript of his Aug. 26 testimony published on the website of a court in Curitiba, Brazil, overseeing the case.
Cervero was sentenced in August to more than 12 years in prison for corruption and money laundering. Musa’s lawyer, Luis Gustavo Rodrigues, confirmed the information in the court documents when reached by phone. Cervero’s lawyer Edson Ribeiro denied any participation by his client in the drillship contract or related kickbacks.
Musa testified that in late 2007 he was approached by one of Cervero’s assistants, who offered part of the commission if Transocean won a contract to operate the Petrobras 10,000 drilling rig. Musa then met a man who presented himself as a Transocean agent named Carlos Moura to discuss the contract tender. Transocean, based in Vernier, Switzerland, submitted the most competitive bid for the contract, and Musa started receiving payments in 2012 from the agent, according to his testimony.
Transocean settled in May the last legal claims stemming from the 2010 Macondo disaster in the Gulf of Mexico that led to the sinking of its Deepwater Horizon drilling vessel.
Petrobras didn’t immediately respond to e-mailed questions about Musa’s allegations. The evidence against Cervero was collected “through intimidation” and his defense is working to have the testimonies thrown out, his lawyer Ribeiro said.
Musa never spoke about the contract directly with Cervero, according to the testimony. None of the testimony indicates he had any contact with Transocean apart from the alleged agent named Carlos Moura.
Transocean erased earlier gains, slumping as much as 9.4 percent, and closed 4.8 percent lower at $13.01 in New York.
©2015 Bloomberg News