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IPE special report May 2018

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USS settles lawsuit against Petrobras auditor for $50m

The UK’s largest pension scheme has agreed a $50m (€40.1m) settlement with PricewaterhouseCoopers’ (PwC) Brazilian subsidiary as part of a class action lawsuit against oil giant Petrobras.

The deal forms part of a $3bn settlement with Petrobras, agreed last month and awaiting approval from the court in New York. It relates to accusations of bribery and money laundering. Petrobras admitted in 2015 it had lost billions to corruption.

The £60bn (€68.6bn) Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) worked with US public pension funds from the states of Hawaii and North Carolina on the case, as well as law firm Pomerantz. Legal action was first started three years ago, and last year USS took the role as lead plaintiff on the class action lawsuit.

Jeremy Hill, group general counsel at USS, said: “We continue to lead this securities class action diligently and intensively, and we welcome this important additional step in the litigation process for the class. We are pleased with the settlement agreement which has been reached with PwC Brazil, which we believe is in the best interests of the class and concludes an important stage in the action.” 

If approved, the settlement will be the largest ever involving a non-US company, according to USS.

Jeremy Lieberman, co-managing partner at Pomerantz, said: “With allegations of such an extended and pervasive fraud at Petrobras, it is particularly important to look at the role of auditors and other gatekeepers to ensure that a blind eye is not turned to corporate malfeasance.

“The settlement announced today ensures accountability for those gatekeepers whose duty it is to protect the interests of shareholders, not their corporate clients.”

In a statement announcing the PwC Brazil settlement, Pomerantz said the corruption scandal had involved former executives of Petrobras as well as Brazilian politicians and lawmakers. The fraud involved “billions of dollars in kickbacks, tens of billions of dollars in overstated assets, as well as significant losses to Petrobras investors”, Pomerantz said.

Several other European pension funds took part in other lawsuits against Petrobras – which is partly owned by the Brazilian government – in relation to the corruption scandal. Sweden’s AP1 and Dutch agricultural sector scheme AVH settled in 2016 in a class action that also involved UK local authority pension funds and several US pension funds.

Giant Dutch pension fund managers PGGM and APG have also been involved in legal action against Petrobras.

 

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