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IPE special report May 2018

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USS given green light to sue Petrobras over bribery claims

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The £48bn (€64bn) Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) is suing Brazil’s Petrobras, alleging large-scale bribery at the energy company.

The UK’s largest pension fund said the Southern District of New York had certified its suit as a class action on 2 February.

The court named USS lead plaintiff, allowing investors that had acquired Petrobras shares between 2010 and July 2015 to sue for damages.

It also ruled that investors that acquired debt issued by the company for the 10 months following May 2013 were entitled to seek redress.

In a statement, USS cited alleged securities violations “stemming from a large-scale bribery and money-laundering scheme”, which it said had caused losses worth billions of US dollars.

Concerns over the management of Petrobras recently saw Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM) place the company under observation, a step that could lead to its eventual exclusion from the investment universe of the Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global.

At the time, NBIM cited the recommendation of the Council on Ethics, which raised concerns of “gross corruption”.

The Council’s recommendation added: “Senior executives of the company and its most important suppliers have apparently for a decade organised a system of paying large bribes to top politicians, political parties and civil servants.”

The recommendation also noted several convictions over “kickbacks”.

Petrobras admitted last year it had lost an estimated BRL6.2bn (€1.4bn) due to corruption, relating to alleged bribes paid to win contracts.

Jeremy Hill, group general counsel at USS, added: “The fraudulent actions of Petrobras executives have caused significant losses to investors worldwide, many of whom are responsible for the pensions or long-term savings of large numbers of individuals.

“As lead plaintiff, we therefore welcome the court’s decision, which will allow these claims to continue as a class action.”

Jeremy Liebermann, lead counsel for the class action and partner at New York law firm Pomerantz, claimed that the alleged fraud conducted by Petrobras had “eviscerated billions of dollars in shareholder value” while damaging Brazil’s economy.

He said the court’s decision to allow the case to proceed was a “significant milestone” for investors seeking to reclaim losses.

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