By Anthony Boadle
BRASILIA (Reuters) - President Dilma Rousseff's government denied on Wednesday that it is looking to strike a "grand bargain" with Brazilian construction and engineering firms implicated in the kickback scandal at state-run oil company Petrobras.
With Brazil facing recession, the government is keen to limit economic fallout by reaching leniency deals with some of the 24 companies under investigation that have halted projects and laid off workers after Petrobras stopped paying them.
Reuters reported last month that some of those companies, which include the country's top builders, were pressing the government and judiciary to strike a "grand bargain" to minimize the legal fallout.
But prosecutors say such leniency deals will hinder criminal investigations to punish corrupt executives who allegedly paid billions of dollars in bribes siphoned off overpriced contracts with Petroleo Brasileiro SA, as the oil company is formally called.
"There is no such big agreement," Brazil's solicitor general Luís Inácio Adams said at a congressional hearing.
Brazil's comptroller general Valdir Simão said four of the 24 companies have proposed negotiating deals with his office, known as the CGU. They are OAS, Galvão Engenharia, Engevix and SOG Óleo e Gás.
One foreign company involved in the bribery scandal, Dutch oil platform leasing firm SBM Offshore NV, said last week it had agreed on a framework for an accord with the CGU.
Like the Brazilian firms, SBM cannot bid for contracts with Petrobras while it is under investigation.
To reach a settlement with the CGU, the companies must admit wrongdoing, provide information to the ongoing investigations, repay the damage and establish programs for compliance with Brazil's new anti-corruption law.
Solicitor General Adams told reporters the deals would not obstruct criminal investigations and would instead provide prosecutors with new information.
The government defends the deals as the best way to get the companies to return the proceeds of corruption to Petrobras or state coffers.
Adams said the government is waiting for Petrobras to report its delayed fourth quarter audited results to set a floor for the amount of restitution it will seek under the leniency deals.
Petrobras, which is scrambling to estimate how much corruption reduced the stated value of its assets, says it plans to release the results by the end of April. Unaudited results released by Petrobras in January pointed to a possible net writedown for corruption-related losses of 61.4 billion reais ($19.2 billion).
(Additional reporting by Maria Carolina Marcello; Editing by Christian Plumb)