Judge Thrown Off Ex-Billionaire's Trial After Taking Joy Ride in Seized PorscheJuan Pablo Spinetto
The judge overseeing the insider-trading trial of Brazil’s most-famous fallen billionaire was removed from the case after he was accused of taking a joy ride in one of the defendant’s seized luxury cars.
Judge Flavio Roberto de Souza breached the court’s ethics code by allegedly using assets seized from ex-billionaire Eike Batista, Brazil’s judicial oversight body said late Thursday in a statement. The proceedings against Batista will be reassigned to another court and Souza will be subject to a disciplinary investigation, according to the statement.
Souza didn’t reply to an e-mail seeking comment on the decision.
Batista’s Porsche Cayenne Turbo S, which was part of the businessman’s luxury car collection seized by Souza during the trial, was seen parked this week in the garage of the judge’s Rio apartment building. Sergio Bermudes, Batista’s lawyer, petitioned to get the judge kicked off the case after providing photos showing the $157,000 white SUV exiting Souza’s building.
While the driver isn’t identifiable in the images, Souza told Agencia Estado newswire that he took the car to his building’s garage because of a lack of parking at police and court facilities. He told newspaper Folha de S.Paulo that he also left a piano belonging to Batista and a second vehicle owned by the entrepreneur’s son Thor with neighbors of the magistrate’s apartment building.
“There is no interpretative breach that allows a judge to keep or request the usage of a defendant’s property,” Brazil’s justice inspector general said in the statement. “It’s clear from several interviews that the federal judge chose to ignore the courts ethics code.”
Batista, who lost most of his $34.5 billion fortune when his energy and commodities empire collapsed, is being charged by Rio prosecutors with illegally dumping shares of his oil company using privileged information. The company, at the time known as OGX, tumbled 95 percent in 2013 as it filed for bankruptcy protection after cutting output targets and halting most operations.
Once Brazil’s richest man, Batista is now more than $1 billion in the red, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, giving him the rare distinction of being a “negative billionaire.”
Souza earlier this month ordered Batista’s assets in Brazil seized, as well as those of his two of his sons, an ex-wife and the mother of his third son. The order led to the raid of Batista’s Rio mansion in which police took seven vehicles including a Lamborghini Aventador, a police spokesman said at the time. Authorities also seized a yacht, three jet skis and a speedboat, among other assets.
Following the trial’s first hearing in November, which resembled a movie set with several film crews following every movement of the 58-year-old fallen mogul, Souza called Batista a “symbolic figure.”
“He was the poster boy of his own companies and with a megalomaniac dream of becoming the world’s richest man,” he said about the ex-billionaire at the time. “To see a person with that type of attitude sitting at the defendant’s bench is really a historic moment.”
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