FILE - In this March 21, 2017 file photo, a multilingual sign welcomes visitors at the meatpacking company JBS, in Lapa, in the Brazilian state of Parana. 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. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres, File)
Joesley Batista, former chairman of JBS meatpacking giant, center, arrives at the airport during his transfer to a federal police jail after he turned himself in to authorities, in Brasilia, Brazil, Monday, Sept. 11, 2017. Brazilian police are searching the homes of former and current executives of the world's largest meatpacker whose plea bargain testimony has implicated the president in corruption. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, center, arrives to the Federal Justice building in Curitiba, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017. The "Operation Car Wash" corruption investigation, the largest in Brazil's history, has implicated several former presidents. Da Silva has already been convicted of corruption in one case. Da Silva arrived at a court in the southeastern city of Curitiba on Wednesday to testify in another. (AP Photo/Denis Ferreira)
Justice Edson Fachin arrives to attend a Brazilian Supreme Court session in Brasilia, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
SAO PAULO — Brazilian police on Wednesday arrested the CEO of the world’s largest meatpacker for allegedly using their own plea bargains to gain an 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 agreements with prosecutors in which they testified that JBS paid bribes to scores of politicians, including President Michel Temer. Temer denies wrongdoing.
The Batistas have been at the center of Brazil’s near-operatic corruption investigation in recent weeks — a drama outlined by the plea-bargain singing of many witnesses. The sprawling probe has uncovered a scheme in which several companies paid millions of dollars in bribes to politicians.
The investigation, the largest in Brazil’s history, has implicated several former presidents. Ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, for instance, has already been convicted of corruption in one case. Da Silva arrived at a court in the southeastern city of Curitiba on Wednesday to testify in another.
Executives from JBS have provided evidence for some of the most serious allegations, including claims that Temer arranged to receive millions in payouts in exchange for helping the meatpacker. But in recent days, prosecutors have questioned whether Joesley Bastista and other executives may have withheld some information, violating their plea deals.
Wednesday’s accusations focused on the company’s activity in the weeks before their plea deals became public.
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.
A warrant for Joesley Batista’s arrest was also issued, but the executive has been in custody since Sunday following the questions about his plea testimony.
Between late April and mid-May, while negotiating their plea bargains, the brothers 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.”
Over the course of around 10 days in May, as word began leaking out that the brothers were considering plea bargains that included damning accusations, JBS shares plummeted, losing nearly half of their value.
Pierpaolo Cruz Bottini, a lawyer for the Batista brothers, called the arrest “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.