Owners of meatpacker JBS to pay $280M fine over foreign bribery charges

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The Brazilian parent company of meatpacking conglomerate JBS SA has agreed to pay more than $280 million in fines to the Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to settle charges it violated federal anti-corruption laws.

J&F Investimentos, a holding company run by Brazilian nationals Joesley Batista and Wesley Batista, agreed Wednesday to pay a $256 million fine to the Justice Department over charges it violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) by using funds obtained through a bribery scheme to expand its U.S. operations.

Federal prosecutors alleged that JBS SA used U.S.-based bank accounts, shell companies and an apartment in a massive bribery scheme involving funding from Brazilian banks. The Batistas previously 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 and federal pension funds. 

“With today’s guilty plea, J&F has admitted to engaging in a long-running scheme to bribe corrupt officials in Brazil to obtain financing and other benefits for the company,” said acting Assistant Attorney General Brian Rabbitt.

“As part of this scheme, executives at the very highest levels of the company used U.S. banks and real estate to pay tens of millions of dollars in bribes to corrupt government officials in Brazil in order to obtain hundreds of millions of dollars in financing for the company and its affiliates,” Rabbitt said.

The SEC also fined J&F and the Batistas $27 million to settle charges it used the illegally obtained money to finance the purchase of poultry producer Pilgrim’s Pride in 2009. 

JBS SA’s acquisition of Pilgrim’s Pride and its 2007 purchase of Swift & Co. helped the company’s U.S. affiliate, JBS USA, become the country’s second-largest producer of beef, pork and poultry.

“Engaging in bribery to finance their expansion into the U.S. markets and then continuing to engage in bribery while occupying senior board positions at Pilgrim’s reflects a profound failure to exercise good corporate governance,” said Charles Cain, chief of the SEC enforcement division’s FCPA Unit. “This brazen misconduct flies in the face of what investors should expect from those occupying the role of an officer or director of a U.S. issuer.”

JBS investor relations officer Guilherme Perboyre Cavalcanti said in a Wednesday statement that the company and its owners are “committed with best corporate practices and close cooperation with authorities in all jurisdictions in which they operate. The agreements announced today represent an important step in their continuous efforts to improve their compliance and corporate governance programs.”

JBS has faced intense bipartisan scrutiny for more than a year over a litany of concerns related to the Batistas’ bribery scheme.

Lawmakers in both parties have questioned the Trump administration for giving JBS at least $90 million in aid intended to help U.S. farmers struggling under the weight of the president’s trade war with China. JBS said the money went directly to farmers who sold animals to the company for processing and distribution.

Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) also asked Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in 2019 to open an investigation into whether JBS used funds obtained through bribes to purchase Swift and Pilgrim’s Pride.

JBS’s other legal issues include the alleged involvement of Pilgrim’s Pride in a national poultry price fixing scheme. The company agreed Wednesday to pay a $110 million fine to settled charges related to the price fixing allegations in a separate action led by the Justice Department.

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration also fined JBS $15,000 for failing to take proper coronavirus precautions after six employees died and more than 300 tested positive for COVID-19 during an outbreak at its Greeley, Colo., plant 

Tags Bob Menendez Brazil coronavirus pandemic Foreign Corrupt Practices Act J&F Investimentos JBS SA JBS SA JBS USA Marco Rubio Pilgrim’s Pride Steven Mnuchin SWIFT & Co

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