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Bill Gates foundation trust sues Brazil's Petrobras

The Petrobras logo is seen in front of the company's headquarters in Sao Paulo April 23, 2015. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust has sued Brazil's Petrobras (PETR4.SA)(PBR.N) to recoup stock losses stemming from a corruption scandal at the state-run oil company.

According to a complaint filed late Thursday night in federal court in Manhattan, Petrobras' "pervasive bribery and money laundering scheme" caused the trust and another plaintiff, WGI Emerging Markets Fund LLC, to lose tens of millions of dollars by investing in the company.

"Indeed, the scandal still seems to escalate by the day - as more guilty pleas, more arrests, and more secret bank accounts are uncovered," the complaint said.

Petrobras, whose formal name is Petroleo Brasileiro SA, is facing a slew of U.S. class-action litigation claiming that years of corruption, including bribery, inflated the value of more than $98 billion of its stock and bonds.

Created in 2000 by Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) co-founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda, the foundation focuses on improving education and health and reducing poverty.

The trust is suing on its own, suggesting it believes it might recover more of its losses on Petrobras' American depositary shares that way. A Brazilian affiliate of Petrobras auditor PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) is also a defendant.

Petrobras and PwC had no immediate comment. Lawyers for the trust did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Westwood Global Investments LLC, a Boston-based firm, manages investments for the foundation and the WGI fund.

The Seattle-based foundation is among the world's largest charitable organizations, with a $41.3 billion endowment.

Petrobras' market value has plunged more than 90 percent from nearly $300 billion seven years ago.

It took a $17 billion writedown in April for overvalued assets. Prosecutors have said more than $2 billion of bribes were paid over a decade, mainly to Petrobras executives from construction and engineering companies.

The case is WGI Emerging Markets Fund LLC et al v. Petroleo Brasileiro SA et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 15-07568.

(Corrects first, second and sixth paragraphs to reflect that named plaintiff is Gates Foundation Trust, not Gates Foundation)

(Additional reporting by Guillermo Parra-Bernal in Sao Paolo; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)