JBS’s Wesley Batista to Return as CEO Hours After Suspension

JBS SA, the world’s largest meatpacker, said late Tuesday that Wesley Batista will return to his post as chief executive officer, just hours after temporarily stepping down amid a probe by Brazilian police into investments made by state-run pension funds.

Earlier in the day, JBS said Jose Batista Jr. was to take over as interim CEO in place of Wesley, his brother, who stepped aside as part of a judge’s decision on the pension funds investigation. The suspension was later revoked in exchange for J&F Investimentos SA, the family’s holding company, presenting financial guarantees, according to a statement by prosecutors.

Wesley will return to his post after the company’s board meets on Wednesday to ratify the decision, a JBS spokesman said by phone.

J&F has until October 21 to present guarantees of about 1.5 billion reais ($452 million) and the involved parties agreed to be available to police and prosecutors whenever needed, according to the statement from prosecutors.

Batista Jr. was the company’s top executive for 20 years and has a deep knowledge of the business, JBS said in a statement Tuesday. Jose Batista Sobrinho, the patriarch of the clan, has been appointed to take over as chairman, a position currently held by another son, Joesley Batista.

JBS’s bonds and shares tumbled last week amid reports the executives would have to step down after Wesley gave testimony in the investigation and as police raided the offices of parent company J&F Investimentos SA and its pulp producer, Eldorado Brasil Celulose SA. Two of the pension funds being investigated invested 550 million reais ($167 million) in Eldorado in 2009 and owned a stake valued at 3 billion reais as of December, J&F said at the time. It also said that company executives are cooperating with police.

JBS’s shares erased earlier losses to close 1.5 percent higher at 11.79 reais in Sao Paulo on Tuesday. The stock is the sixth-worst performer on the benchmark Ibovespa this month.

‘Jr. Friboi’

Batista Jr., known in the industry as "Jr. Friboi" after the company’s top brand of meat, is the oldest son of Batista Sobrinho, JBS’s founder. He left the company in 2013 after about two decades to focus on politics, exchanging his shares in J&F for an undisclosed amount of assets. He joined PMDB, Brazil’s largest political party whose members include President Michel Temer and Senate Chief Renan Calheiros, with the ambition of running for governor in his family’s home state of Goias. After that bid was unsuccessful, he was expelled from the party and returned to the meat business, becoming the top executive at slaughterhouse JBJ Agropecuaria. A press official for J&F said Batista Jr. will temporarily step down from his post as he takes over JBS.

The Batistas have historically held close ties to Brazil’s government, with the media dubbing JBS a “national champion” after cash from development bank BNDES helped finance part of a $20 billion, decade-long acquisition spree that turned it into the world’s largest beef and poultry producer. In May, Temer tapped J&F’s then-chairman, Henrique Meirelles, as his finance minister.

(An earlier version of this story corrected the company giving financial guarantees in second paragraph)

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