SAO PAULO — Brazilian police on Friday arrested a former chairman of the world's largest meatpacker whose testimony was central to allegations of corruption against the president.
Former JBS chairman Joesley Batista was arrested Friday, as was Ricardo Saud, a former executive at the holding company that controls JBS, according to the public relations firm that represents the meatpacker. Antonio Andrade, the vice governor of Minas Gerais state and a former agriculture minister, was also arrested, his press office said.
Police said in a statement that the arrests were part of an investigation into a graft scheme that dates to 2014-2015 in which executives paid bribes to civil servants and politicians linked to the Agriculture Ministry in exchange for favorable decisions and regulation that helped JBS eliminate competition. Police said that there is evidence that some targets of the investigation tried to throw the probe off course even though they were ostensibly cooperating.
Police said they had arrested 16 people in all Friday, and they are still seeking three more. They were also executing dozens of search warrants.
JBS is one of the companies at the center of Brazil's sprawling corruption investigation, known as Operation Car Wash, in which investigators have determined that companies paid billions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks to politicians in order to secure political favors and public contracts. Several JBS executives have confessed to the company's involvement in exchange for plea bargain deals, including providing evidence that underpinned charges levelled against President Michel Temer. Temer denies wrongdoing, and Congress twice voted to spare him trial while he is in office.
But prosecutors have since accused Batista of withholding information and revoked his deal.
"Joesley Batista is a collaborator with the justice system," Batista's lawyer, Andre Callegari, said in a statement. "Therefore, the request for his arrest causes bewilderment in the context of an investigation in which he has already given more than one deposition as a cooperating witness and handed over innumerable corroborating documents."
In a statement, Andrade's press office said that he had cooperated with police and his lawyers would respond once they had seen the details of the investigation. Representatives for Saud did not immediately respond to a request for comment.