Maersk now finds itself drawn into the largest Brazilian corruption scandal on record, which concerns alleged bribes and money laundering of billions of dollars at scandal-stricken oil company Petrobras, reports Danish state news media DR Nyheder.
A former Petrobras executive, Paulo Roberto Costa, has told the police that he for years received payments from Maersk's agent in Brazil, in return for confidential information that could help place Maersk's subsidiary in a better position than its competitors.
"Costa has admitted that he has received payments in return for providing Maersk with confidential information. Maersk has thus had a competitive edge in terms of Petrobras' need to hire ships," police lieutenant Erika Mialik Marena, investigator on the Petrobras scandal, tells DR Nyheder.
Denmark's Fraud Squad enters the case
The Danish Attorney General's office for fraud and economic crimes - generally known as the Danish Fraud Squad (SØIK) - has now entered the case after requests from Brazilian authorities to assists with the investigation.
"I can confirm that we've established a good report with the Brazilian police concerning this case. We've reached a stage where it's important to have a close cooperation between the Brazilian and Danish police, and we're in close talks about what information is needed in order to advance the case," Morten Niels Jacobsen, head of the Fraud Squad, tells DR Nyheder.
DR Nyheder has gained access to classified summaries from the interrogations of Paulo Roberto Costa. According to these records, Costa explains that Maersk's local agent "offered him half of the percentage he expected as commission in return for inside knowledge about Petrobras' need to rent bigger ships."
Maersk: No sign of illegal activity
Maersk has investigated the matter itself and found no signs of illegal activities.
"We have found nothing to indicate that Maersk has participated in any form of incorrect or illegal activity," says Maersk in a statement from the headquarters in Copenhagen, according to DR:
"The Group takes the accusations related to the Petrobras investigation, as presented in the media, very seriously. We have not found anything to indicate that Maersk has participated in any form of incorrect or illegal activity," says the Maersk Group.
Maersk also informs that it is a normal procedure in the industry to use agents or brokers as middlemen, and that Maersk has paid its agent the standard going rate in the industry.
It was revealed for the first time in December 2014 that Maersk was involved in the investigation of the comprehensive corruption scandal at Petrobras.
"We have some investigations, on marine transport for instance, made by Paulo Roberto Costa, with strong evidence of bribery payments to him by these companies, including Maersk," said Carlos Lima, lead prosecutor for the case, in an interview with Bloomberg at the time.
Maersk Group CEO Nils Smedegaard Andersen stated in a editorial published in the Maersk Post newsletter back in November 2014 that corruption poses one of biggest risks faced by A.P. Moeller-Maersk as a global company, as corruption is widespread in many of the countries in which Maersk operates.
Under the headline The True Cost of Corruption, Nils Smedegaard Andersen stressed that the consequences could be devastating. In addition to the fact that corruption destroys the trust needed to create steady economic growth, it also increases the costs of running a company, just as it increases the legal risks as well as the risks in terms of the company's reputation.
On Wednesday night, on Danish news broadcaster DR, Nils Smedegaard Andersen declined to comment on the latest information:
"We have rules regarding how we deal with people involved in corruption, and we do not tolerate it."
Earlier this year, Maersk dismissed three senior executives from its terminal unit APM Terminals for breaching the company's internal guidelines. According to ShippingWatch's sources, this involves APM Terminals' activities in India.
At a teleconference following publication of the company's interim report for the first quarter 2015 on Wednesday last week, Nils Smedegaard Andersen maintained that the company would elaborate further on the details behind the dismissal of the three senior executives.
"I'm sorry that I cannot answer questions about personnel at APM Terminals, but we have clear internal guidelines at the group on how to handle this, and we must react to violations when we deem them severe enough. We have no further comments," said Nils Smedegaard Andersen.
The turbulence surrounding Petrobras
Numerous senior executives at Petrobras stand accused of having used bribes on a large scale in relation to contracts with suppliers, and the company has been surrounded by turbulence for a long time now.
The corrupt methods have been tallied to around USD 2.0 billion (6.2 billion reais), and Petrobras has also, in its delayed annual report for 2014, performed impairments for a total USD 14.8 billion, related to, among other things, overprices assets.
"From this moment, Petrobras turns over a new page," says the new Petrobras CEO Aldemir Bendine according to Financial Times, describing the recent period as a "a sad chapter" in the 61 year old company's history.