SAO PAULO — Brazilian police on Wednesday arrested the CEO of the world’s largest meatpacker for allegedly using information about plea bargains to gain 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 plea bargain agreements in which they testified that JBS paid bribes to scores of politicians, including President Michel Temer. Temer denies wrongdoing.
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.”
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. He turned himself in after questions arose about whether he had withheld information during his plea testimony.