Brazil's Supreme Court Suspends New Oil-Royalties Regime

RIO DE JANEIRO - Brazil's Supreme Court late Monday suspended the redistribution of oil royalties that would cost three states billions of dollars in lost revenue.

Supreme Court Justice Carmen Lucia granted the injunction after Rio de Janeiro, Espirito Santo and Sao Paulo states filed lawsuits last week to block implementation of the new royalties regime. The states claim the new scheme is unconstitutional because it would break existing contracts, while also causing budget shortfalls that would severely crimp public services.

The ruling on the injunction will be reviewed by the full court at a later date, according to a court official.

In her decision, Ms. Lucia said that the case required urgent judicial attention from the court because royalties are paid on a monthly basis. The changes represented "unequaled risks" to the financial health of the states and cities involved, "impelling me to immediately grant the requested injunction," Ms. Lucia said.

The lawsuits are the latest step in a long-running political battle that pits Brazil's three major oil-producing states of Rio de Janeiro, Espirito Santo and Sao Paulo against the country's remaining 24 states, which have little oil production and stand to benefit financially from the new distribution scheme. The legal wrangling, however, isn't expected to delay an important auction of new oil and natural gas exploration concessions set for May.

The new law equally distributes royalties from existing and future oil production between the country's 27 states.

The states requested an injunction to block implementation of the new royalties regime, in addition to a ruling on the constitutionality of the new law. The law, however, is effectively suspended until the Supreme Court makes a definitive ruling on the lawsuits, a court official said last week.


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