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Brazilian police say Petrobras theft was corporate espionage
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    RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — The theft of information linked to recent and potentially massive offshore petroleum discoveries was probably corporate espionage, Brazilian police said Tuesday.
    Investigators have ruled out common theft in the disappearance of computers and hard drives that belong to state controlled oil giant Petroleo Brasileiro SA, or Petrobras, earlier this month, federal police chief Valdinho Jacinto Caetano said.
    ‘‘Common thieves wouldn’t steal hard drives. They wanted specific information,’’ Caetano said at a news conference, noting that other valuable equipment had been left behind.
    The stolen drives contained information related to offshore petroleum discoveries known as the Tupi and Jupiter fields, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said on Sunday. He called the material a ‘‘state secret.’’
    The potential size of the petroleum finds is so great, the nation’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia has said Brazil would consider joining OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
    A laptop computer and the ‘‘two or three’’ stolen hard drives had been in the possession of Houston-based oil services company Halliburton Co. when they were shipped from an offshore rig to Petrobras offices last month.
    Caetano said there had been a ‘‘flaw in security’’ during the process, but that it was too early to say who was responsible.
    Halliburton referred questions to Petrobras, which has said it has backup copies of the information.
    Investigators lost precious time in their pursuit because the robbery was detected during the Carnival holiday, when the country virtually shuts down between Feb. 1 and Feb. 6, Caetano said.
    The crime scene was also compromised by investigators after Halliburton reported that a seal on the container in which the computers were stored had been broken and its original lock replaced, Caetano said.
    ‘‘It should have been sealed again, but they went in, touched things and moved things,’’ he said. ‘‘I would say it was just inexperience.’’
    Federal police are retracing the route of the container, trying to establish where and when the robbery took place, Caetano said. Nine people have been questioned about the container, and 15 others will be summoned, he said.
    Petrobras announced the discovery of an ultra-deep Atlantic Ocean field in November, saying the Tupi field has as much as 8 billion barrels of light crude.
    The company last month said it had discovered a huge natural gas reserve, dubbed Jupiter, off the coast of Rio de Janeiro that could be as big as Tupi, although it did not provide expected production figures.

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