Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation sues Brazil’s scandal-ridden oil giant Petrobras
NEW YORK — Brazil’s corruption-ridden oil giant Petrobras has one more enemy: Bill Gates.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust filed a lawsuit late Thursday in New York against Petrobras and its auditor, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).
The Gates Foundation is seeking “damages” related to the Trust’s investment in Petrobras, the government-run company where a massive money laundering case was first exposed about a year ago and continues to unravel today.
Earlier this year, Petrobras disclosed that the company lost $2 billion just in bribes and that it lied about its balance sheet.
The Gates Foundation claims it lost “tens of millions” of dollars in its Petrobras investment. It had purchased American depository shares (ADS) of Petrobras, which the foundation says it wouldn’t have bought if it had known the truth about Petrobras’ finances.
The value of Petrobras’ stock on the New York Stock Exchange has fallen to $1.70, from about $8 a year ago.
The foundation says that PwC knew about Petrobras’ money laundering but looked the other way.
“This case arises from a pervasive bribery and money laundering scheme carried out by Petrobras and willfully ignored by PwC,” Kenneth Warner, the lead attorney representing the Gates Foundation, wrote in the complaint. The Gates Foundation is a co-plaintiff with the WGI Emerging Market Fund.
Gates’ Foundation is just one of many investors in the United States to file lawsuits against Petrobras over its stock. The city of Providence, R.I., sued Petrobras for $98 billion last December alleging it had lost money it had invested in the company.
Several Petrobras officials have already been sentenced to jail for money laundering and accepting or dolling out bribes. The scale of the scandal — both the number of executives and politicians involved and the dollar amount — have shaken the nation to its roots.
Brazil’s economy is now in recession, in part due to the paralyzing effect the scandal has had on business. It has caused investors to flee and business confidence in the country to plummet at a time when commodity prices have plummeted. Commodity exports make up a big part of its economy.
Brazil is expected to be in recession throughout this year and into 2016.
WGI Emerging Market Fund declined to comment. Petrobras declined to comment. The Gates Foundation Trust, which manages the foundation’s money, declined to comment beyond its complaint.