House Democrat asks USDA to halt payouts to Brazilian meatpacker under federal probe

House Democrat asks USDA to halt payouts to Brazilian meatpacker under federal probe
© Greg Nash

A top Democratic congresswoman on Thursday asked the Agriculture Department (USDA) to investigate and retract tens of millions of dollars in federal contracts with the U.S. subsidiary of a Brazilian meatpacking company facing federal corruption charges.

In a Thursday letter, Rep. Rosa DeLauroRosa Luisa DeLauroSome kids will spend Christmas in border cages On The Money: House approves Trump USMCA deal in bipartisan vote | Senate sends .4T spending bill to Trump's desk | Why budget watchdogs are howling over the spending deal House approves Trump's USMCA trade deal amid shadow of impeachment MORE (D-Conn.) called on the USDA’s inspector general to probe whether JBS S.A. misused Brazilian development grants secured through bribes to fund a massive expansion into the U.S. meat market.

“Taxpayer dollars should never be used to subsidize corrupt, foreign-owned corporations who are engaged in illegal behavior,” DeLauro wrote to Agriculture Secretary Sonny PerdueGeorge (Sonny) Ervin PerdueOvernight Health Care: Trump reportedly lashed out at health chief over polling | Justices to hear ObamaCare birth control case | Trump rolls back Michelle Obama school lunch rules Trump to roll back Michelle Obama's school lunch rules on vegetables, fruits Cities, states sue over planned Trump cuts to food stamps MORE.

ADVERTISEMENT

“I urge you to immediately direct the Department’s Inspector General to conduct the necessary investigation and present findings to the agency’s suspension and debarment authority.”

JBS S.A., the largest meat processing company in the world, entered the U.S market with its 2007 purchase of Swift & Co. The Brazilian company’s U.S. subsidiary, JBS USA, grew to be the second-largest U.S. producer of beef, pork and poultry through a string of high-profile acquisitions, including poultry giant Pilgrim’s Pride.

DeLauro also asked USDA to investigate funds used to purchase Pilgrim’s Pride, the largest U.S. poultry company, is one of several American poultry companies under federal investigation for price-fixing

JBS USA received more than $90 million in contracts with the USDA since 2018, and tens of millions more through President TrumpDonald John TrumpMnuchin knocks Greta Thunberg's activism: Study economics and then 'come back' to us The Hill's Morning Report - House prosecutes Trump as 'lawless,' 'corrupt' What to watch for on Day 3 of Senate impeachment trial MORE’s bailout for farmers hindered by the U.S.-China trade war.

But lawmakers in both parties have objected to JBS USA receiving federal money because of the sordid history of JBS S.A.’s owners: brothers Joesely and Wesley Batista. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The Batistas have admitted to spending roughly $150 million to bribe more than 1,800 Brazilian government officials to secure $1.3 billion in loans from the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) and federal pension funds. 

While BNDES loans are restricted to domestic investments in Brazil, the Batistas are alleged to have used that financing to purchase U.S. meatpacking firms. The Department of Justice has also opened an investigation into whether the Batistas violated federal anti-corruption laws, according to court records obtained by The Hill and other media outlets.

“Based on well-supported and documented facts, JBS S.A. invested in U.S. subsidiaries as a result of numerous criminal violations that call into question the justification for their continuation as USDA contractors,” DeLauro said.

DeLauro’s letter is the second congressional request for an investigation into JBS in the past two months. 

Sens. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezMedia's selective outrage exposed in McSally-Raju kerfuffle Dem senators say Iran threat to embassies not mentioned in intelligence briefing Overnight Defense: Iran crisis eases as Trump says Tehran 'standing down' | Dems unconvinced on evidence behind Soleimani strike | House sets Thursday vote on Iran war powers MORE (D-N.J.) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioLawmaker wants Chinese news outlet to register as foreign agent Apple under pressure to unlock Pensacola shooter's phones Senators offer bill to create alternatives to Huawei in 5G tech MORE (R-Fla.) also asked the Treasury Department in October to investigate whether JBS S.A.’s expansion into the U.S. compromised national security. The senators cited the Batista brothers’ bribery admission, along with its involvement in Venezuela’s food procurement system and the Venezuelan Foreign Trade Corporation.

Menenedez and Rubio also pointed to the Batistas' relationship with Diosdado Cabello, a powerful lawmaker and ally of Venezuelan President Vincent Maduro who helped cultivate the relationship between JBS and the Venezuelan government. 

JBS S.A. spokesman Cameron Bruett said in a statement at the time that the company "has fully cooperated with all relevant authorities in a transparent manner regarding past events in Brazil."

"The company will continue to cooperate and respond to any subsequent inquiries," Bruett said.

Updated at 8:14 p.m.