At Brazil s Petrobras A Chicago Boy Takes The Reins

FILE PHOTO: Economist Roberto Castello Branco, next chief executive of Petroleo Brasileiro SA, arrives for a meeting in Brasilia
Thomson Reuters

By Gram Slattery

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Depending on who you ask, Roberto Castello Branco, the new chief executive of Brazil's Petroleo Brasileiro SA , will either save the indebted oil major - or strip it to the bone.

Tapped by far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who took power on Tuesday, Castello Branco had said in a June newspaper column he thought Petrobras - as the company is known - should be privatized, a hardcore proposal even in an administration packed with free market advocates.

He has walked back on that idea since being named as CEO in November, saying such a move is not in his mandate, but has indicated he remains laser-focused on an ambitious divestment program, aimed at cutting Petrobras' staggering net debt, which stood at $73 billion as of the third quarter.

Castello Branco has sharply criticized the former government for meddling in domestic diesel pricing. In an interview last year with Reuters, he also complained about courts blocking Petrobras asset sales, which include four refineries and a pipeline subsidiary known as TAG, among many others.

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