RIO DE JANEIRO - The Abreu Lima refinery in Brazil, a joint venture between state-run oil companies Petrobras and Venezuela's PDVSA, will cost roughly 23 billion reais ($13.3 bln), more than triple its previous estimate, a director at Petrobras said on Wednesday.

Supply Director at Petrobras, Paulo Roberto Costa also said the expected start-up date for the refinery had been pushed back to April, 2012, from March, 2011, previously, while the capacity has been raised 30,000 barrels per day to 230,000 bpd.

In 2006, Petrobras gave an initial cost estimate of the refinery that is to be built in Brazil's northeastern state of Pernambuco of $4 billion, though the Brazilian real has strengthened considerably against the dollar and oil equipment and services have become more expensive since then.

PDVSA, which will hold a 40 percent stake in the project, is seeking financing from Brazil's BNDES development bank.

Costa said the company's efforts to cancel earlier supply contracts for services and equipment, which were set when oil prices were high, saved the companies 6.7 billion reais.

The negotiations between Petrobras and PDVSA have been drawn out and difficult since the project's inception.

Costa denied that there was any irregular overbilling in the construction contracts for the refinery.

Brazil's federal audit court that reviews all major public works for billing irregularities, is currently investigating the refinery's budget. President Luiz Inacio Lula has recently proposed limiting the court's ability to hold up work on projects.

Large government works in Brazil often overrun initial budgets. They are fertile ground for public officials to award contracts to suppliers that inflate the costs of goods and services and that divert taxpayer money to fund political campaigns off the books or enrich politicians.

Petrobras officials spoke to reporters in Rio de Janeiro during the signing of some of the main contracts for the construction of the refinery.

($1=1.723 reais) (Reporting by Denise Luna; writing by Reese Ewing; Editing by Marguerita Choy)