[email protected] (Adds arrest of former agriculture ministers, agriculture ministry comment, JBS shares)
RIO DE JANEIRO/SAO PAULO, Nov 9 (Reuters) – Brazilian police arrested one of the controlling shareholders of meatpacker JBS SA on Friday in connection with an ongoing police inquiry into illegal campaign contributions while a local news outlet reported two former agriculture ministers were also arrested.
A member of JBS’ controlling family Joesley Batista is expected only to be held temporarily, his lawyer André Callegari said. Callegari declined to elaborate on the arrest order or the investigation.
Antonio Andrade and Neri Geller, who served consecutively as agriculture ministers under former President Dilma Rousseff, were also arrested, news website G1 reported.
Geller, who was recently elected to Congress, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Andrade, the current vice governor of Minas Gerais state, could not be reached for comment while the state’s press office did not immediately respond to a request.
Earlier in the day, the federal police and tax authorities said they were investigating allegations that a large meatpacking firm, which they did not identify, had provided illegal campaign funding to lawmakers and officials at the agriculture ministry.
An agriculture ministry spokesman said its headquarters had not been raided on Friday, but declined to comment further.
The federal police were serving multiple arrest and search warrants related to the investigation in five states and Brasilia, according to the police and the federal revenue service, which are jointly conducting the probe.
Batista’s arrest is the latest blow to JBS’s controlling family, which last year signed cooperation agreements with authorities, admitting to bribing scores of politicians to advance their business interests.
Shares in the company were down 1.3 percent to 10.16 reais.
“Joesley Batista has been strictly abiding with the terms of his agreement to cooperate with authorities,” Callegari said. Batista has testified multiple times and given evidence to authorities, he said.
Batista and Ricardo Saud, a lawyer for J&F Investimentos, which controls JBS, were arrested in September on charges of concealing information related to their plea agreements with federal prosecutors. They were both released in March.
Saud was also arrested in Friday’s operations, his press representative said.
A JBS press representative referred questions to J&F, which did not have additional comments on the arrests.
Two large retailers based in the state of Minas Gerais were also involved in the case, which authorities say relates to events in 2014 and 2015. They did not name the retailers.
The tax authority said 22 million reais ($5.85 million) in bribes may have been paid to politicians and officials. ($1 = 3.7604 reais) (Reporting by Pedro Fonseca in Rio de Janeiro and Ana Mano in Sao Paulo; Additional reporting by Jake Spring in Brasilia; Editing by Jason Neely, Kirsten Donovan and Jeffrey Benkoe)