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

AP News
|
Posted: Jan 26, 2017 5:19 PM
Once Brazil's richest man, Eike Batista sought for graft

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazilian police issued an arrest warrant Thursday for a businessman famous for amassing and then losing a multibillion-dollar fortune, the latest move in a wide-ranging corruption probe roiling Latin America's largest nation.

Federal police said they have asked Interpol for help locating Eike Batista, who is out of the country, possibly in New York, and said he is considered a fugitive. A lawyer for Batista issued a statement saying he was abroad on business but would return "soon" and turn himself in.

Batista is wanted for allegedly paying bribes to former Rio de Janeiro state Gov. Sergio Cabral, apparently to gain advantage in landing government contracts.

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

"The wealth of the members of the criminal organization led by Mr. Sergio Cabral is an ocean not yet completely mapped," he told a news conference.

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

A statement from lawyer Sergio Bermudes' office said Batista was prepared to cooperate with the investigation but did not specify when he would return to Brazil. Another of Batista's attorneys was quoted by the G1 news portal as saying he was in New York.

Federal police inspector Tacio Muzzi said Batista made a reservation on a flight to New York this week but would not say definitively that he was there. He added that Batista appears to have used his German passport to leave Brazil.

Police asked Interpol to put Batista on the organization's Red List for wanted persons after learning overnight that he might have left the country.

Globo Television showed images of officers at Batista's home in Rio de Janeiro early Thursday.

Prosecutor Eduardo El Hage told reporters that Batista paid $16.5 million to Cabral in foreign bank accounts. Officials were investigating what the alleged payment was for.

The inquiry is among many that make up Brazil's so-called Car Wash probe, a sprawling investigation into the cozy relationship between politicians and businesspeople 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 were tied to bribes and election campaign donations. It has spawned hundreds of cases and caught up some of the country's top politicians and business executives.

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

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

Batista's riches-to-rags story was widely seen as a symbol of Brazil's own economic troubles: After years of surging growth, the country is now in a protracted economic recession.

___

Associated Press writer Sarah DiLorenzo in Sao Paulo contributed to this report.