Some of the companies caught up in a massive corruption scandal at state-run oil firm Petrobras are quietly pressing Brazil's government and judiciary to strike a "grand bargain" to minimize the legal fallout, five sources with knowledge of the talks say.
The companies, which prosecutors suspect of paying out billions of dollars in bribes through service contracts they had with Petrobras, are worried the investigation is too far-reaching and could drag on for years, heavily damaging their bottom lines and Brazil's fragile economy.
They are not trying to escape punishment altogether but are pressing judges and officials in President Dilma Rousseff's government, sometimes through intermediaries or at informal meetings, to find a way for any penalties to be definitive and applied quickly, the sources told Reuters.
"There has to be a way to say 'We screwed up' without ... it destroying us and others," a source from one of the companies said.
The sources spoke with Reuters on the condition that neither they nor the companies involved in the talks be named, so they could describe their strategies for dealing with and getting past Brazil's biggest-ever corruption scandal.
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While questions abound over the legality and political viability of some ideas, and there is some disagreement among the companies and even their shareholders about what path to take, the sources said several proposals on accelerating a solution have been put forth to officials. They include:
-- A more active government role in coordinating a settlement among the nearly two dozen companies implicated in the scheme.
-- Enforcement of more restrictive guidelines on how police and prosecutors detain and question suspects in the case.
-- Rousseff making major changes in how Petrobras is run in order to regain confidence in Brazil's economy and ease the considerable public anger over misappropriated money.
The companies have so far not discussed in detail what punishments would be appropriate for those guilty of corruption, the sources said.
Federal prosecutors say as many as 23 companies regularly overpaid Petrobras for service contracts from roughly 2004 to 2014. The excess funds were then funneled to corrupt Petrobras executives as well as politicians, including members of Rousseff's Workers' Party, the prosecutors allege.
Some of Brazil's biggest construction and engineering conglomerates are under investigation, including OAS SA, Odebrecht SA and Andrade Gutierrez, all privately held. They have publicly denied wrongdoing.
Questions over legality
The leftist Rousseff has acknowledged graft existed at Petrobras, but denied she knew about it at the time. She has so far shown little willingness to intervene in the investigation, saying that courts' independence must be respected.
However, she warned last month that guilty individuals must be punished without causing the "destruction" of the companies they work for.