Brazil detains meatpacking executive after raids in rotten meat probe

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 18, 2017 12:31 PM

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Police detained an executive of BRF SA on Saturday, as the meat company and rival JBS SA took out full-page advertisements to burnish their image after raids to investigate alleged bribes paid to cover up unsanitary conditions in Brazil's meatpacking facilities.

Roney Nogueira, a government relations executive with BRF, turned himself into police for questioning at Guarulhos airport in Sao Paulo, according to a BRF spokesman. The company, along with JBS, is part of a massive meatpacking industry that in recent years made Brazil one of the world's top exporters of meat.

Police sought Nogueira, who was returning to Brazil from South Africa, because he allegedly discussed bribing health inspectors, including one who helped prevent the closure of a plant in the state of Goiás, according to court documents.

Police said Friday's raids were prompted by evidence that some meatpackers had paid inspectors and politicians to overlook the processing of rotten meat and exports with fraudulent documentation and even traces of salmonella.

Also on Saturday, JBS and BRF launched a public relations offensive to defend the integrity of their practices and deflect a crisis that threatens an industry with $12 billion in annual exports

"Quality is the foremost priority of JBS and its brands," read an advertisement by JBS, the world's largest meat producer, in publications that included the major dailies of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

In 10 bullet points, the company touted its role as an exporter to more than 150 countries and certificates earned and audits passed at facilities throughout Brazil.

In an email, a JBS spokeswoman said the advertisements, which also include radio and television spots, would run across 27 different media outlets through Monday. The company did not respond to a request about the cost of the campaign.

BRF, for its part, ran ads addressing "the millions of consumers whose confidence we have earned," vowing to adhere to the principles of "truth, respect, quality and transparency."

Officials at BRF did not immediately respond to requests for details about its campaign.

Investors on Friday hammered shares of both companies after news of the raids. JBS plunged 11.0 percent, while BRF fell 7.0 percent at the Sao Paulo stock exchange.

In their advertisements, and in communiques following the raids, both companies denied systematic fraud or abuse within their operations and condemned any wrongdoing that may be uncovered by the probe.

(Reporting by Paulo Prada; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Tom Brown)