RIO DE JANEIRO: Brazilian state oil giant Petrobras on Thursday reported a first-quarter net profit of 44.6 billion reais ($8.6 billion), amid sharp criticism from President Jair Bolsonaro over rising fuel prices.

The result was 38 times more than the 2021 first quarter, when the company reported 1.2 billion reais ($180 million).

It was also a 41 percent increase over the 31.5 billion reais ($5.6 billion) profit from the previous quarter.

The company reported a nearly $10 billion payout to shareholders.

Just before the results were released, Bolsonaro was back to berating the company.

“Your profits are a violation. Fuel prices cannot go up anymore,” the president said during his regular live Thursday address.

The oil giant has long been a target for Bolsonaro, who in March sacked its president, Joaquim Silva e Luna – an army reserve general whom Bolsonaro had himself appointed a year ago – over differences in fuel pricing policies.

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The new president of the company, Jose Mauro Coelho, who is backed by Bolsonaro, said in a statement the strong results were thanks to a “healthy Petrobras, which reduced its debt payment charges, invests in a responsible manner and operates with efficiency.”

The company issued an 18.8 percent increase in the price of gasoline and a nearly 25 percent increase in diesel prices in early March due to rising costs caused by the war between Russia and Ukraine.

The average price of a barrel of Brent oil in the first quarter of 2022 was $101, Petrobras said.

The company’s price increases have helped contribute to inflation, which threatens far-right Bolsonaro’s chances in his October reelection bid.

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