The charity foundation of multi-billionaire Microsoft founder Bill Gates has sued Petrobras and accounting giant PwC's Brazil arm over investment losses due to corruption at the Brazilian oil giant.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, together with WGI Emerging Markets Fund, alleged in the suit filed late Thursday in New York that Petrobras repeatedly misrepresented its operations and financial situation in raising billions of dollars from investors.
It also alleges that PwC's Brazil affiliate, PricewaterhouseCoopers Auditores Independentes, played a key role by attesting to Petrobras financial statements and ignoring red flags. The suit seeks unspecified damages.
"The depth and breadth of the fraud within Petrobras is astounding. By Petrobras's own admission, the kickback scheme infected over $80 billion of its contracts, representing one-third of its total assets," the suit alleged.
"Equally breathtaking is that the fraud went on for years under PwC's watch, who repeatedly endorsed the integrity of Petrobras' internal controls and financial reports. This is a case of institutional corruption, criminal conspiracy, and a massive fraud on the investing public."
Prosecutors in Brazil say Petrobras executives colluded with construction companies to massively overbill the state oil giant. The extra money went to kickbacks and political payoffs company executives, politicians and political parties that include the ruling Workers' Party.
Portfolio managers for Gates and WGI probed Petrobras executives on questionable financial data, but were misled in a "series of materially false and misleading written and oral statements and/or omissions by Petrobras and/or PwC," according to the complaint.
The Gates litigation follows a class-action suit in New York by a group of investors against Petrobras. Petrobras has argued that the scandal was the result of contractors, corrupt politicians and a few employees and should not impugn the company as a whole.
The largest company in the world's seventh-largest economy has estimated the scheme cost it more than $2 billion.
The scandal has tarred the tenure of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who has faced rising talk of impeachment.
On Monday, the former treasurer of Brazil's ruling party was sentenced to 15 years in prison after being convicted of receiving bribes from Petrobras contractors and distributing them to members of the ruling party.