Brazil Taps Interpol in Hunt for Former Billionaire Batista

Updated on
  • Police probing $100-million money laundering scheme from Rio
  • Operation signals Carwash corruption investigation spreading

Brazilian police and Interpol are on a manhunt for former billionaire Eike Batista on allegations he bribed Rio de Janeiro’s previous governor with millions of dollars in overseas bank deposits.

Brazil’s federal police said they are asking Interpol to carry out a preventative arrest warrant for Batista on alleged money laundering and corruption. Batista traveled to New York on Jan. 24 on an American Airlines commercial flight, prosecutors told reporters in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday. Batista is abroad on business and will turn himself over to authorities shortly, his lawyer Eike Fernando Teixeira said in an e-mailed statement.

Eike Batista

Photographer: Patrick Fallon/Bloomberg

Batista was once Brazil’s richest person with a fortune of more than $30 billion that he used to travel the world in private jets and helicopters. Of the $100 million being investigated in an offshore bank account, $78 million belonged to former Rio state governor Sergio Cabral and all but $15 million have already been recovered, police said. Batista allegedly laundered a $16.5 million bribe to Cabral through a mine purchase and stock transactions.

“We can’t categorically affirm there was intention to run away; that’s why we’re being careful with the word fugitive,” Tacio Muzzi, a police chief involved in the investigation, told reporters. “This should be decided today.”

Batista became entangled in the country’s largest corruption probe last year, and one of his former chief executive officers was temporarily arrested for allegedly paying bribes to win contracts with state-controlled oil producer Petroleo Brasileiro SA. The raid Thursday is part of an investigation that put Cabral in jail. It shows how the so-called Carwash probe, which started by investigating Petrobras and the country’s largest construction companies, has spread to include regional politicians and other business leaders.

A member of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, the same political group of President Michel Temer, Cabral was jailed in November along with members of a “criminal organization” whose actions resulted in losses of more than 220 million reais ($69 million) to state coffers, public prosecutors said at the time. It was the first time that the orders were issued jointly by two judges: Sergio Moro, who’s in charge of Carwash in Curitiba, and his counterpart Marcelo Bretas from Rio de Janeiro.