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Brazilian police raided the São Paulo home of one of the billionaire owners of JBS, the world’s largest meatpacker, as part of a new phase in the country’s sprawling corruption investigations.
Brazilian television showed federal police outside the home of Joesley Batista, one of the five siblings who control JBS, as part of nationwide raids that included one arrest warrant.
They also raided one of the brothers’ other companies, Eldorado Celulose, one of the country’s biggest pulp manufacturers, in an investigation that Brazilian media reported was related to a political lobbyist, Lucio Funaro.
JBS said neither it nor its “executives” were involved in the investigation while Eldorado confirmed it had been raided but said it had no knowledge of the reasons for the police action and was co-operating with authorities. Neither Mr Batista nor Mr Funaro was immediately available for comment.
Brazil’s political and corporate establishment is struggling with sprawling corruption investigations into allegations that directors of state-owned oil company Petrobrascollaborated with politicians and contractors to extract bribes and kickbacks from the company.
The investigation has claimed the scalps of senior members of suspended president Dilma Rousseff’s Workers’ party, or PT, and has since spread to include allegations against politicians from the entire political spectrum.
Disgust with corruption contributed to the collapse in popularity of Ms Rousseff, opening the way for her erstwhile coalition partner, the PMDB, aided by the opposition PSDB, to begin impeachment proceedings against her, analysts said.
But since the impeachment began, the probe has shifted to senior PMDB figures, causing discomfort for interim president Michel Temer, a senior party figure. He took office in May when Ms Rousseff was suspended.
Any move to include the Batista family of JBS in the investigations will represent a worrying development for the political establishment. The family’s companies were among the biggest political donors to all parties in the 2014 elections.
JBS has grown rapidly over the past 10 years through ambitious overseas acquisitions, accumulating operations in the US, Australia and Europe. The company counts BNDES, Brazil’s development bank, as a major shareholder. It has also acted as a key lender.
Henrique Meirelles, Mr Temer’s finance minister, served as chairman of J&F Investimentos, the vehicle through which the Batista family controls much of its business empire, until he took the finance role in May. He has said he no longer has any links to the company.
The police did not provide details of the reasons behind Friday’s investigation other than to say it also involved 19 search warrants in São Paulo, Brasília, Rio de Janeiro and the northeastern city of Recife.
The police dubbed Friday’s campaign “Operation Sepsis”, which they referred to as a generalised infection when a disease affects more than one organ.