Brazil Police: Theft of Petrobras Data Was Espionage

The theft of confidential information from Brazil's state-run oil firm Petroleo Brasileiro SA (PBR), or Petrobras, was a case of industrial espionage, Brazilian federal police said Tuesday.

Four notebooks and two hard drives containing important Petrobras data were stolen from a container in the possession of U.S. oilfield service company Halliburton Co. (HAL) during a shipment in late January, Rio de Janeiro Federal Police Chief Valdinho Jacinto Caetano said during a press conference.

"I dismiss the possibility of a common theft," Caetano said.

So far, both the federal police and Brazil's government have been investigating under the assumption it was either a common theft or industrial espionage.

The data stolen from Petrobras contained "state secrets," Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said Sunday, adding that it included information on the recent massive oil and gas finds in Brazil's Santos Basin called Tupi and Jupiter.

The equipment was being shipped from a platform in Brazil's new oil frontier in the Santos Basin to the city of Macae north of Rio de Janeiro.

In the case of a common theft, the thieves would have taken the entire computers and not just hard drives, Caetano said Monday. Also, there were more computers in the container, which the thieves didn't take, he said.

Caetano criticized the security during the transportation of such important information. The security level provided was only sufficient for the hardware, and not of "privileged information," he said.

Another thing puzzling police is the length of time it took to transport the shipment from the platform to Macae. It took seven days for the container to reach the city of Rio de Janeiro by sea from the platform and another five days to reach Macae by road, a city only 190 kilometers from Rio de Janeiro.

The federal police have already heard nine people as part of their investigation, and will hear another 15.

Caetano also said it was not the first time Petrobras property has been stolen. In 2006, another container with Petrobras property was robbed, he said without providing further information.

Also, unknown trespassers in recent years have entered the apartments of several Petrobras engineers, apparently seeking confidential information. The robbery attempts, however, were unsuccessful, Caetano added.

The theft of the Petrobras data was discovered by Halliburton employees on Jan. 31, the federal police said earlier.

Halliburton said that on Petrobras' instruction, it defers to the Brazilian company for any information related to the theft.

Petrobras said in November that its Tupi discovery in ultra-deep waters in the Santos Basin could contain up to 8 billion barrels of oil equivalent in reserves, making it Brazil's biggest-ever discovery.

In January, the company said it made a massive natural gas discovery in a nearby area, which it called Jupiter. Gas from the field could possibly turn Brazil into an exporter of natural gas, oil analyst Marc McCarthy from Bear Stearns said.

BG Group PLC (BRGYY) owns a stake in Tupi, and Portugal's Galp Energia SGPS SA (GALP.LB), owns stakes in both Tupi and Jupiter.

The counterespionage unit of the Brazilian Intelligence Agency, or Abin, is assisting the federal police in its investigation.

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