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Techint says still in talks to buy Odebrecht Peru pipeline stake

LIMA Nov 23 Techint Group said on Wednesday that it was still in talks with Odebrecht SA on buying part of its stake in a $5 billion natural gas pipeline project in Peru, after local media reported its partner on the acquisition had pulled out.

Semana Economica, a Peruvian economic news website, in a report citing unnamed sources, said the Sempra Energy-led consortium that has spent months trying to buy Odebrecht's stake in the project had exited talks.

But Italian industrial group Techint said it remains in negotiations to buy a 5 percent stake in the pipeline project from Odebrecht, which controls 55 percent. "For Techint nothing has changed," the company said in an email. It declined to comment on Sempra.

Odebrecht, a Brazilian engineering conglomerate, declined to comment. U.S.-based Sempra did not respond to requests for comment.

Odebrecht is the center of Brazil's biggest-ever graft scandal and must exit the Peru pipeline project as a condition from banks that would provide a $4.1 billion loan for its construction.

The government of Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski is considering holding a new auction to find a builder and operator of the project after Odebrecht's attempt to sell its stake has been held up on corruption concerns.

Sempra wants the government to strip a clause from the current pipeline contract that could hold a new operator liable for any corruption, Reuters reported on Friday.

Odebrecht won the rights to build the pipeline in 2014 after its sole competitor - a group led by Sempra Energy - was disqualified the day of the auction for making last-minute changes to the share each company held in the consortium.

Prosecutors and the comptroller have been investigating potential wrongdoing in the bidding process, which Odebrecht and public officials have denied.

Earlier on Wednesday, Odebrecht executives and federal prosecutors in Brazil reached the world's biggest plea and leniency deal under which the company would pay around 7 billion reais ($2.1 billion) in fines related to its role in the corruption scandal.

(Reporting by Marco Aquino; Writing by Mitra Taj; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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