SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Odebrecht SA wants to negotiate graft-related fines with several Latin American countries by June, which would help the Brazilian engineering conglomerate prevent upcoming elections across the region from slowing planned asset sales, two people familiar with the matter said.
According to the sources, Odebrecht [ODBES.UL] could sell some 6.5 billion reais ($2.1 billion) in project stakes and operating licenses in the region and Angola by year-end. So far, it has sold about 5 billion reais in assets out of a total goal of 12 billion reais.
The fate of the pending asset sales is increasingly dependent on how quickly governments decide penalties for Odebrecht, which admitted to paying bribes to win projects in recent years. Prosecutors from 10 Latin American countries last week formed a task force to share evidence on how the scheme operated.
Several planned divestitures like Angola’s Catoca mining project and a 28 percent stake in Brazil’s Santo Antônio hydropower dam could be finalized later this year, the people said. Exiting Gasoducto Sur Peruano SA will take longer, they noted, following a decision by Peru’s government to seize the project and auction it off again.
Settling plea deals in those countries as soon as possible is key to help Odebrecht mitigate reputational and political risks on the asset plan as elections loom across the region. Of the 10 countries investigating Odebrecht, eight will hold at least one congressional, regional or presidential ballot in the 18 months through December 2018.
The scandal has sparked an upheaval in countries like Peru, where authorities are seeking the arrest of a former president. In Colombia, the company is being accused of financing the campaign of President Juan Manuel Santos.
Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Panama, apart from home turf Brazil, also are investigating the Odebrecht scheme as are prosecutors from Portugal.
Salvador, Brazil-based Odebrecht declined to comment. The people spoke under condition of anonymity, because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Odebrecht is the largest of Brazilian engineering firms accused of colluding to overcharge Petróleo Brasileiro SA and other state firms for contracts, then using part of that to channel donations and bribes into Brazil’s former ruling Workers Party and domestic and international allies.
Rapidly resolving legal obligations is also key for Odebrecht to win new projects and raise cash to reduce the group’s 76 billion reais in consolidated net debt.
In December, Odebrecht and petrochemical subsidiary Braskem SA (BRKM5.SA) settled with Brazilian, U.S. and Swiss authorities a record fine of $3.5 billion. Odebrecht admitted to bribing officials in 12 countries, mostly Latin America, to help secure lucrative contracts.
The quick settlement with authorities in those three countries enabled an Odebrecht-led group working on a subway project in Panama to clinch a $1.8 billion credit facility from two European banks, a third person briefed on the matter said.
One of the banks is Zurich-based UBS Group AG (UBS.N) , a fourth person briefed on the matter said on Wednesday. The Swiss bank did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
To weather fallout from the scandal and an economic slowdown throughout Latin America, Odebrecht has also cut costs and renegotiated obligations at some cash-strapped subsidiaries.
According to the first person, talks with creditors to restructure oil drilling firm Odebrecht Óleo & Gás SA’s obligations could be concluded as early as next month.
Other Odebrecht assets and projects that are for sale include Perú’s Chaglla power dam, Colombia’s Ruta del Sol highway project, several subway and toll road licenses as well as a stake in Rio de Janeiro’s international Galeão airport.
($1 = 3.0949 reais)
Additional reporting by Zurich newsroom; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama