By Gram Slattery and Rodrigo Viga Gaier
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Police in Brazil on Thursday arrested Eike Batista, the charismatic mining and oil magnate who was once the country’s richest man, on suspicion of money laundering and insider trading.
Police and prosecutors said in statements that they arrested the eccentric former billionaire in Rio de Janeiro on a temporary basis. They also executed search warrants at the houses of a former executive at one of his firms, and the residences of Batista’s sons, Thor and Olin.
Batista has been under house arrest since early 2017 on separate charges. In early 2018, he was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison for paying a $16.5 million (£13.5 million) bribe to now-imprisoned former Rio de Janeiro Governor Sergio Cabal in exchange for state construction contracts.
Batista, who is appealing his conviction, could not immediately be reached for comment.
His lawyer, Fernando Martins, called the new detention arbitrary because it was based on “alleged facts” that occurred in 2010 and 2013 and did not warrant his arrest.
Batista’s meteoric rise and fall mirrored the recent fortunes of Brazil, where a commodities boom faded as his energy, mineral and logistics empire fell apart earlier this decade. His swashbuckling attitude and confident forecasts of a prolonged golden era for Brazil evaporated as Latin America’s largest economy suffered its worst recession on record.
Batista’s bribery conviction was linked to the rights to run Brazil’s most famous football stadium, the Maracana in Rio, which held the 2014 World Cup final and the opening ceremonies of the 2016 Olympic Games.
Federal prosecutors on Thursday described an insider trading and market manipulation racket in which Batista used Panama-based The Advisor Investments (TAI) to hide transactions.
According to prosecutors, TAI would trade shares and debt in firms as if the firm were trading its own money, when in fact it was trading the money of Batista and others seeking to hide their identities. Batista used a Credit Suisse account in the Bahamas to receive proceeds from the scheme, prosecutors said.
Reuters could not immediately reach TAI for comment. Credit Suisse did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Prosecutors said they identified some 800 million reais (£167.6 million) in illicit transactions. A court ordered that 1.6 billion reais of Batista family assets be frozen.
In recent years, scores of wealthy businessmen and high-profile politicians, previously thought untouchable, have been imprisoned in Brazil for their role in graft schemes. Many, however, have managed to avoid or put off prison sentences due in part to a complex and time-consuming appeals process.
(Reporting by Rodrigo Viga Gaier; writing by Gram Slattery; editing by Bernadette Baum and Bill Trott)