FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

July 1, 2015

Mifune Gets a Star on the Walk of Fame-the Petrobras Scandal Only Gets Worse

MifuneIt was announced last week that actor Toshirō Mifune (1920-1997) will be honored with a star bearing his name on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce will add the star in 2016, together with new stars in the motion picture category for Quentin Tarantino, Michael Keaton, Steve Carell, Bradley Cooper, Ashley Judd and Kurt Russell. For those of you who may not have heard of Mifune, he was a veteran of sixteen films directed by Akira Kurosawa as well as many other Japanese and international classics. His films with Kurosawa are considered cinema classics. They include Drunken Angel, Stray Dog, Rashomon, Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress, High and Low, Throne of Blood, Sanjuro, and Yojimbo. While there are many great, great performances in these films, my personal favorite is Yojimbo where Mifune plays an un-named Ronin, who cleans out a village infested by two warring clans. The film was the basis for the great first Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood Spaghetti western, A Fistful of Dollars. 

I had always thought that the Hollywood Walk of Fame honors actors but it turns out that it honors a great many more performers. For instance, next year will also see names like LL Cool J, Cyndi Lauper, Shirley Caesar, Joseph B. “Joe” Smith, Itzhak Perlman, Adam Levine, and Bruno Mars added in the music category. I considered this category of entertainers wider than simply actors when I recently read more about the burgeoning scandal in Brazil around the state owned energy company Petrobras and its ever-growing fallout.

The fallout has extended far beyond Petrobras, Brazil and even the direct parties who may have been involved. In an article in the Financial Times (FT), entitled “Petrobras woes loom large in Shell deal for BG”, Joe Leahy, Jamie Smyth and Christopher Adams reported on how the ongoing matter is affecting the world of super sized mergers and acquisitions. The rather amazing thing about this issue is not that British Gas (BG) has been caught up in the scandal or even has been alleged to paying bribes to Petrobras.

Rather it is because of assets that BG has in its portfolio. The article said, “Brazil has the potential to become the location of the most troubled assets in BG’s portfolio because the UK company is partner to Petrobras in some of the vast pre-salt oilfields off the country’s east coast in the Santos Basin.” This has led to speculation that “There is a risk that Petrobras will struggle to fulfill its mandate as sole operator for all new pre-salt oilfields because of the corruption scandal, and that this leads to delays in developing the deepwater discoveries, including those involving BG.”

This development arising out of the Petrobras scandal is so significant that BG mentioned it in their annual report, saying “In Brazil, we are closely monitoring how the current corruption allegations affecting Petrobras may impact the cost and schedule of the Santos Basin [pre-salt] development because of supply chain disruption and/or capital and liquidity constraints placed on Petrobras.” Think about that statement for a moment. It is only in the annual report because it could have a ‘material’ effect on BG and BG is a company being acquired by Shell to the tune of £55 million. However, as noted in the FT article, “many analysts say that Petrobras, partly because of the magnitude of the scandal, does not have the capital or management bandwidth to be the sole operator of all new pre-salt fields.”

What if Petrobras becomes unable to develop enough resources to feed South America’s largest democracy’s need for energy? In 2014 alone, the company posted a new loss of $7.4 billion, of which $2.5 billion was attributable to the ongoing bribery and corruption scandal. How much will it cost the country of Brazil to bring in outsiders to develop its own natural resources? This is a real possibility and it was further driven home by another FT article by Joe Leahy, entitled “Petrobras plans 37% cut in investment”. Petrobras currently is required by Brazilian “government policy forcing it to import petrol at international prices and sell it in the domestic market at a subsidized rate.”

Things can only get worse as Leahy reported that the company announced it “was cutting its projection for investment in 2015-2019 to $130.3bn or by 37 percent in relation to its previous plan.” This would lead to a reduction in “domestic production to 2.8m barrels per day of oil equivalent by 2020 from the previous target of 4.2m.” The article ended by noting that Petrobras would “divest $15.1bn in assets and undertake additional restructuring and sales of assets totaling $42.6bn in 2017-18.”

All of this certainly bodes poorly for the citizens of Brazil. For those who claim that bribery is a victim-less crime; I would point to this as Contra-Example A. But this information is also of significance to any Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner for a US, UK or other western country. Not only must you review any contracts you had with Petrobras and any of its suppliers; now you must digger several levels deeper. If you are in an acquisition mode, you not only need to look at the contracts of your target to see if they may have been obtained through bribery and corruption, the simple fact of having a contract with Petrobras may put your potential portfolio asset base at risk. For if Petrobras has to cut back 37% on investments at this point, chances are it will only get much worse. This 37% reduction is based on only the first round of estimates of the cost to the company of the bribery scandal.

But more than simply contracts directly with Petrobras, if you are evaluating a target who has contracts with Petrobras suppliers, you may be at equal risk. Not only could those suppliers obtain their contracts with Petrobras through bribery and corruption, those same contracts, even if valid, may not be worth their estimated value if Petrobras cannot fulfill them or even worse, pay for the goods and services delivered thereunder. How about payment terms? Do think for one minute, Petrobras would not unilaterally extend payment dates out 30, 60, 90 even 180 days when it finds itself in more bribery and corruption hot water?

Finally, I think there is a very good chance the US Department of Justice (DOJ) or Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) could come knocking, unannounced, for any US company doing business with Petrobras or even with significant operations in Brazil. The SEC could do something as simple as send a letter requesting clarification of your internal controls or books and records regarding subcontractors or other third parties in Brazil. If you received such a letter, would you be in position to respond from the requirements for a public company under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act?

Toshirō Mifune had a long and distinguished acting career. While it is not clear how long, how far and how deep the Petrobras corruption scandal will reach, it is clear that its repercussions will extend far past the energy industry or even Brazil. You need to review and be prepared to respond now.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2015

Blog at WordPress.com.