Sat | Mar 24, 2018

Once Brazil's richest man, Eike Batista sought for graft

Published:Friday | January 27, 2017 | 12:00 AM
In this November 18, 2014, Eike Batista attends a court hearing in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Brazilian police issued an arrest warrant Thursday for a businessman famous for amassing and then losing a multibillion-dollar fortune, the latest person caught up in a wide-ranging corruption probe roiling Latin America's largest nation.

Federal police were working with Interpol to locate Eike Batista, who might be in New York. Batista's lawyer, Fernando Martins, told the G1 news portal that his client was travelling and would surrender to police.

Batista is being sought for allegedly paying bribes to former Rio de Janeiro state Governor Sergio Cabral, apparently to gain an advantage in government contracts.

Tacio Muzzi, an inspector with the federal police, told a news conference that if Batista doesn't turn himself in soon, he will be considered a fugitive from justice. He did not give a specific deadline. He added that Batista appears to have used his German passport to leave Brazil.

Police learned overnight that Batista might be out of the country, Muzzi said, but decided to go ahead with attempting to execute the warrant. Globo Television showed images of police going to Batista's home in Rio de Janeiro early Thursday.

Prosecutor Eduardo El Hage told reporters that Batista paid US$16.5 million to Cabral in foreign bank accounts. Officials said Thursday that they were still investigating what the money was for.

Cabral is also facing several corruption charges and was jailed last year.

The warrant for Batista was one of nine issued Thursday in connection with an investigation into the money laundering and the hiding of about US$100 million in foreign bank accounts. The vast majority of that money, nearly US$80 million, belonged to Cabral, said prosecutor Leonardo Freitas. He held out the possibility that the conspiracy could be even larger.

"The wealth of the members of the criminal organisation led by Mr Sergio Cabral is an ocean not yet completely mapped," Freitas told reporters.

The inquiry is among many that make up Brazil's so-called Car Wash probe, a sprawling investigation into the cosy relationship between politicians and businessmen, including the payment of billions of dollars in bribes. The focus of the probe is on allegedly inflated contracts with state oil giant Petrobras and other state-run companies that yielded billions of dollars for bribes and election campaigns. It has spawned hundreds of cases and caught up some of the country's top businessmen and top politicians.

Batista, who was once Brazil's richest man, has already experienced a fall from grace.

In 2011, he was listed by Forbes magazine as the world's eighth-richest person and had boasted he would take the top spot away from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim. By 2013, his fortune had crumbled amid debts in his various energy sector companies. At one point, he was US$1 billion in debt.

- AP