Wed, Mar 12, 2014 9:45 PM

Brazilian lawmakers have set up a committee to investigate alleged kickbacks made to state oil giant Petrobras by Dutch firm SBM Offshore.

“What is happening now with Petrobras, with its shares falling, is the result of misappropriation of public funds,” alleged opposition Social Democrat lawmaker Vanderlei Macris after the committee’s formation was announced overnight Tuesday.

The committee is due to travel to the Netherlands to investigate allegations of bribery running into tens of millions of dollars.

A former SBM employee has alleged $139 million in bribes were paid to Petrobras officials via intermediaries.

In turn, it is alleged, Petrobras gave the Dutch company, which leases floating oil platforms and vessels, preferential treatment for contracts.

The Dutch firm is also under investigation in Britain, the United States and the Netherlands, according to Valor Economico financial daily.

Petrobras CEO Graca Foster said last month the company, a major SBM client, was undertaking an investigation of its own.

Petrobras is currently involved in the world’s biggest corporate spending plan comprising a $220.6 billion investment program by 2018.

The company is developing huge oil fields off Brazil’s southeastern coastline as it looks to bring up so-called pre-salt deepwater reserves lying more than 3,000 metres below the Atlantic surface under layers of salt and rock.

Following a report by investment bank Merrill Lynch last year Brazil’s Estado de Sao Paulo daily concluded those ambitions had made Petrobras the most indebted company in the world with net debt at year end of 237 billion reais ($115 billion).

Moody’s also downgraded the firm from A3 to Baa1, constituting medium credit risk, in October and put it on negative watch.