SBM Offshore says Rio court orders Petrobras to withhold payments

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(Reuters) – Dutch marine engineering group SBM Offshore said on Thursday a Brazilian court had ordered Petrobras to provisionally withhold some payments to SBM to ensure the Dutch company pays whatever penalties it may receive in a corruption case.

SBM shares fell more than 8 percent in early Amsterdam trade, wiping out gains made on Wednesday when it announced a new floating production vessel contract with Exxon Mobil.

SBM said judges at the federal court in Rio de Janeiro asked Petrobras and SBM to submit further information before deciding a monthly amount to withhold from payments for work SBM does as a contractor for Petrobras.

“The company strongly disagrees with the interim decision, is seeking further clarification and is taking all appropriate measures to defend its interests,” it said.

SBM, which has been accused of paying bribes to government officials to secure contracts with Petrobras, said it could give no guarantees it would reach a favorable settlement in Brazil.

In November, two former executives at SBM pleaded guilty to U.S. charges that they participated in a scheme to bribe officials at three foreign state-run oil companies, including Brazil’s Petrobras.

Petrobras has been at the center of Brazil’s largest ever corruption scandal amid investigations into a political kickback scheme involving contractors.

In its 2017 annual report, SBM said developments in Brazil, its single largest market, were hurting its ability to get new business. The size of any settlement “cannot be confirmed, which means there is a risk of prolongation of the inability to win orders from Petrobras.”

SBM paid $240 million to Dutch authorities in 2014 to settle bribery cases in Equatorial Guinea, Angola and Brazil. It set aside another $280 million in 2016 to settle related issues specifically in Brazil, and took a provision of $238 million last year to settle partly related U.S. claims.

The Brazilian court order comes just two days after SBM won a contract to supply a new production vessel for Exxon Mobil in Guyana. That sparked the biggest gain in its shares in nearly two years.

The company made a 2017 loss of $203 million, with underlying operating earnings of $806 million.

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