SAO PAULO (AP) Brazilian police on Wednesday arrested the CEO of the world’s largest meatpacker for allegedly using their own plea bargains to gain an advantage in financial markets.
Wesley Batista was taken into custody in Sao Paulo. Batista and his brother Joesley, the former chairman of JBS, have both entered agreements with prosecutors in which they testified that JBS paid bribes to scores of politicians, including President Michel Temer. Temer denies wrongdoing.
The Batistas have been at the center of Brazil’s near-operatic corruption investigation in recent weeks a drama outlined by the plea-bargain singing of many witnesses. The sprawling probe has uncovered a scheme in which several companies paid millions of dollars in bribes to politicians.
The investigation, the largest in Brazil’s history, has implicated several former presidents. Ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, for instance, has already been convicted of corruption in one case and was set to testify in another on Wednesday.
Executives from JBS have provided evidence for some of the most serious allegations, including claims that Temer arranged to receive millions in payouts in exchange for helping the meatpacker. But in recent days, prosecutors have questioned whether Joesley Bastista and other executives may have withheld some information, violating their plea deals.
Wednesday’s accusations focused on the company’s activity in the weeks before their plea deals became public.
Police investigator Victor Hugo Rodrigues Alves said the Batistas knew that the plea bargains would affect stock prices and cause the Brazilian real to weaken against the U.S. dollar and used that to their advantage.
Between late April and mid-May, while negotiating their plea bargains, they made large purchases of dollars on the futures markets, Rodrigues Alves said. During that period, their holding company also sold hundreds of millions of dollars in JBS shares.
“The victims are not just JBS shareholders,” said Rodrigues Alves. “In a large context, the country is a victim, as the crimes shook the confidence of the market.”
Over the course of around 10 days in May, as word began leaking out that the brothers were considering plea bargains that included damning accusations, JBS shares plummeted, losing nearly half of their value.
Pierpaolo Cruz Bottini, a lawyer for the Batista brothers, told G1 news portal that the arrest was “unjust, absurd and regrettable.” He said his clients had cooperated with authorities at every step and suggested they were being targeted by some within the government for having reached plea bargains.
A warrant for Joesley Batista’s arrest was also issued, but the executive has been in custody since Sunday following the questions about his plea testimony.
Associated Press writer Peter Prengaman contributed to this report from Rio de Janeiro.