SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazilian federal prosecutors have filed a lawsuit seeking damages from oil trading company Trafigura and former executives on corruption allegations involving Brazilian state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA (Petrobras), according to a statement on Monday.
The prosecutors are also seeking a court order to freeze 1 billion reais ($187.55 million) of the defendants' assets pending a final ruling on the matter.
The allegations center around 31 fuel oil purchases and sale transactions carried out between May 2012 and October 2013. In Brazil, prosecutors can only press criminal charges against individuals, and companies are only subject to administrative sanctions, which can include fines.
In an emailed message to Reuters, Trafigura did not comment on the lawsuit specifically. Instead, it referred to a September 2019 statement, where it said it has a zero-tolerance policy on bribery and corruption.
"Any suggestion that Trafigura's current management knew that its payments would be used to make improper payments to employees of Petrobras is not correct," that statement said.
This is the first legal action targeting a trading firm since Brazilian prosecutors started to investigate Petrobras' fuel sales in 2018 as part of the so-called Car Wash graft probe, which is ongoing and started in 2014. Until now, only individuals had been targeted in such lawsuits.
The allegedly irregular trades between Trafigura and Petrobras involved the sale of 7.062 million barrels of fuel oil, the prosecutors said.
They said they found evidence Trafigura secured those contracts by paying 6.86 million reais in bribes to former employees of Petrobras' commercial area. As a result, Trafigura earned a profit of almost 200 million reais and caused losses to Petrobras, the prosecutors said.
Six foreign companies that competed and benefited from the scheme are defendants in the suit, including Trafigura do Brasil Consultoria, Trafigura AG, Trafigura PTE, Trafigura Group PTE, Trafigura Beheer BV and Farringford Foundation, the prosecutors said.
A total of 12 people were involved in the scheme, the prosecutors' statement said.
(Reporting by Ana Mano in São Paulo and Sabrina Valle in Rio de Janeiro; Editing by Stephen Coates and Aurora Ellis)