A file picture of Petrobras oil platforms at Campos basin in Rio de Janeiro. The state oil company is embroiled in a growing corruption scandal. Picture: REUTERS
A file picture of Petrobras oil platforms at Campos basin in Rio de Janeiro. The state oil company is embroiled in a growing corruption scandal. Picture: REUTERS

BRASÍLIA — Brazilian state oil company Petrobras reported a record loss on Monday, underlining the toll that a deep political crisis, in which it plays a starring role, is taking on the Latin American giant.

Petrobras, which is at the centre of an explosive corruption scandal that has wrought chaos on Brazilian politics, said it had lost $9.6bn last year, the worst result since its founding in 1953.

The scandal, meanwhile, inched closer to embattled President Dilma Rousseff as a congressional impeachment committee debated whether to expand the case against her — which so far deals only with accounting irregularities — to include corruption accusations. The lawyer who prepared the formal accusation asked the 65-member committee for permission to add allegations from a senator charged in the Petrobras case, who said that Ms Rousseff knew about the corruption and had used some of the proceeds to fund her campaigns.

Ms Rousseff’s allies fired back that her opponents were trying to cheat the rules. "You can’t add anything new. The accusation of manipulating public accounts has nothing to do with (Senator Delcidio do Amaral’s) accusation.... We’re not here to play a game with marked cards," said MP Chico Alencar.

Thousands of anti-Rousseff protesters gathered outside the presidential palace, shouting "Get out!" — a message directed at the ruling Workers’ Party.

They used a projector to write the word "impeachment" on the side of the building in neon blue.

Ms Rousseff’s presidency appears to be in peril as she fights impeachment, protests, recession, and scandal. And her decision to call her predecessor Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva, to the rescue backfired last week when a judge blocked his appointment as her chief of staff over pending corruption charges linked to the Petrobras scandal.

Mr da Silva, who presided over a booming Brazil from 2003 to 2011, is fighting a Supreme Court injunction blocking his political comeback — and the ministerial immunity that comes with it. Ministers can be tried only before the supreme court in Brazil.

Mr da Silva flew to Brasilia to meet Ms Rousseff and some of her ministers, and was likely to discuss the status of his appeal to the high court to annul a ruling by one of its judges suspending his appointment and sending his case back to criminal court.

Until the supreme court reaches a final ruling, he risks being placed in preventive detention by the crusading anticorruption judge leading the investigation, Sergio Moro.

The high court is not due to reconvene until next Wednesday.

Investigators say Petrobras executives colluded with contractors to overbill the oil company considerably over the course of a decade, bribing politicians and political parties to keep the scheme going.

Petrobras, Brazil’s largest company, bemoaned a long list of adverse business conditions as it reported its second year in the red, including the crash in oil prices, a sinking currency, and Brazil’s credit downgrade to junk status by the big three rating agencies.

The Petrobras scandal has upended Brazilian politics, after 13 years of dominance by the Workers’ Party. The crisis has triggered huge, angry protests for and against Ms Rousseff, laying bare sharp divisions in the country of 200-million people, just months before the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August.

The International Olympic Committee said it was "closely monitoring political developments", but that it remained "very confident" the Games would be a success.

A poll released at the weekend found 68% of Brazilians now favour impeaching Ms Rousseff. Another poll found the congressional impeachment committee is almost evenly split: 32 members favour impeachment, 31 are against, and two are undecided.

The committee is tasked with making a recommendation to the full congress on whether to impeach. If congress votes to start an impeachment trial, Ms Rousseff would be suspended from her duties for up to 180 days. A two-thirds vote in the senate would then remove her from office.

AFP