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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 DeLauroThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Barr splits with Trump on election; pardon controversy McConnell in tough position as House eyes earmark return DeLauro wins Steering Committee vote for Appropriations chair 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 PerdueTrump administration races to finish environmental rules, actions OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects MORE.

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“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 TrumpFederal watchdog accuses VOA parent company of wrongdoing under Trump appointee Lawsuit alleges 200K Georgia voters were wrongly purged from registration list Ivanka Trump gives deposition in lawsuit alleging misuse of inauguration funds 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. 

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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) MenendezEmergency housing assistance for older adults needed now Democrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff Democratic senators urge Facebook to take action on anti-Muslim bigotry MORE (D-N.J.) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP urges Trump not to tank defense bill over tech fight Pressure builds for coronavirus relief with no clear path to deal The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Coast-to-coast fears about post-holiday COVID-19 spread 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.

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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.