Brazil’s Petrobras asked a U.S. district court judge on Thursday to throw out a multi-billion dollar investor lawsuit tied to an ongoing corruption probe, claiming that the company was also a victim of fraud.
Petrobras lawyer Roger Cooper told the court that company executives were unaware of an elaborate corruption scheme tied to Petrobras contracts and said only a small group of individuals are to blame, Reuters said.
“The knowledge of those co-conspirators cannot be imputed to the company,” Cooper told the court.
The lawsuit, filed in December by New York law firm Wolf Popper, claims corruption at Petrobras caused the value of some major projects to be overstated, artificially inflating stocks and bonds worth about $98 billion.
The investors have argued that it would be impossible for a years long corruption scheme to escape the notice of managers or executives.
“This is a vast fraud taking place possibly over two decades, and everyone is asking the court and the public to believe, ‘We didn’t know.’ The question we would ask is: can they be serious?,” Jeremy Lieberman, a lawyer for the investors, told Reuters.
U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff said he would rule on Petrobras’ request within the next two weeks.
Former Petrobras executive Paulo Roberto Costa alleged in September that executives at several companies were inflating the price of contracts tied to Petrobras and skimming off the excess funds.
Costa has admitted to taking a $636,000 bribe in connection with the company’s 2006 purchase of a Texas refinery and is currently awaiting trial in Brazil.
Since the launch of the corruption probe last year, several former Petrobras executives have been arrested for suspected bribery.
Earlier this week, former Petrobras director Pedro Barusco told a Brazilian court that a group of shipbuilding companies, including Keppel FELS and Jurong Shipyard, paid brides to win contracts with state owned shipbuilder Sete Brasil, Bloomberg News said.