Once Brazil’s richest man, Eike Batista detained by graft investigators on return home

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 January, 2017, 10:45pm
UPDATED : Monday, 30 January, 2017, 10:47pm

Eike Batista, once Brazil’s richest man, flew into Rio de Janeiro on Monday and was detained by federal police in connection with charges including an alleged US$16 million bribe to a former governor, Globo news television reported.

I am returning to answer to the courts, as is my duty. It’s time for me to clear this up
Eike Batista

Batista, a brash entrepreneur who became the face of Brazil’s now-fizzled commodities boom, had been sought since last week by Brazilian police, who raided his Rio mansion and confiscated his luxury cars as part of their bribery investigation.

The 60-year-old businessman, who five years ago had a net worth exceeding US$30 billion and was considered among the world’s 10 richest people, arrived aboard an American Airlines flight from New York at Rio’s international airport just after 10am local time.

Since the police raid last week, a Brazilian judge declared him a fugitive and requested his name be added to the wanted list of Interpol, the international police agency.

“I am returning to answer to the courts, as is my duty,” Batista said in a brief interview with Brazil’s Globo television network at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. “It’s time for me to clear this up.”

Batista told Globo he never intended to flee and was in New York on business. Batista declined to answer a reporter’s question about whether he considered himself guilty or innocent.

Batista’s lawyer, Fernando Martins, told Reuters that he did not yet know to which prison his client would be taken.

Inmates with a college degree - which Batista does not have – are usually separated from the rest of the population in Brazil’s crowded and chaotic prison system, which has suffered a series of violent riots this year. A former wildcat gold miner, Batista attracted ravenous demand for shares in his mining and energy ventures. With the decline in oil and mineral prices in recent years, Brazil fell into a recession, and Batista’s empire evaporated.

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As the bonanza faded, investigators in Brazil discovered large-scale corruption around many major projects from the boom years. Starting with a probe into kickbacks around state-run oil company Petrobras, the investigation shed light on a culture of bribery among government officials, politicians and many big companies, especially engineering, energy and infrastructure groups reliant on public licenses and contracts.

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Police said last week that Batista had paid roughly US$16 million to former Rio Governor Sergio Cabral in exchange for support of the businessman’s many Rio-based endeavors. Cabral, who resigned from office in 2014, has been jailed since last year in connection with other corruption charges.

The oil companies OGX Petroleo and OGX Oleo e Gas and mining company MMX, which were founded by Batista, said on Monday he no longer holds administrative roles and his arrest would have no material impact on them.