In one of the largest securities class action settlements in U.S. history, Petrobras said Wednesday it had agreed to pay $2.95 billion to investors who sued over losses resulting from the Brazilian state-owned oil company’s corruption scandal.
The settlement, if approved by a federal judge in New York, would also be the the largest ever involving a foreign securities issuer, according to an attorney for the plaintiffs.
Reuters said the agreement “is an important milestone for [Petrobras] as it seeks to dig out from under a massive graft scandal,” in which prosecutors in Brazil accused executives of accepting more than $2 billion in bribes from contractors.
Analysts at Brazilian bank BTG Pactual said the market had expected a settlement of $5 billion to $10 billion.
“This has been one of the most important overhangs for Petrobras especially for the extremely high uncertainty around the value of this potential liability,” JPMorgan analysts said. “In our models, we [had] assumed a $5bn [payout] for the class action. We see this as good news for Petrobras.”
The so-called Car Wash scandal has rocked Brazil for the past four years, with prosecutors alleging Petrobras contractors colluded to drive up the price of services they billed to the oil company while paying kickbacks to company executives and government officials.
Large investors including the Hawaii state employees’ retirement system and the North Carolina state treasurer sued over their losses in March 2015.
The settlement “eliminates the risk of an adverse judgment which … could have a material adverse effect on the company and its financial situation,” Petrobras said in a news release.
The company also said the agreement “reflects its status as a victim of the acts uncovered by Operation Car Wash,” noting that it has collected some $453 million in restitution from former executives and suppliers.
But the class-action plaintiffs argued that Petrobras knew about the graft and was complicit in concealing it from investors and the public. Even at the height of the scheme, the plaintiffs said, Petrobras made public statements assuring investors of its business ethics and anti-corruption safeguards.