Brazilian executive returns home to arrest on graft charges


RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Police arrested a businessman who was once Brazil’s richest man on corruption charges on Monday, as a string of newly approved plea bargains threatened to draw more top politicians and executives into a massive graft probe.

Federal police said Eike Batista was taken into custody when he landed in Rio de Janeiro on a flight from New York, four days after authorities found him missing from his home here. The prosecutor’s office said in a statement that American police had been monitoring Batista over the weekend, right up until the moment the door to his flight closed and they confirmed he was on board.

Batista, who is famous for having amassed and then lost a multibillion-dollar fortune, is accused of paying bribes to former Rio de Janeiro state Gov. Sergio Cabral, apparently to gain advantage in landing government contracts.

Images on television Monday showed the former tycoon, with his head shaved and clutching a pillow, leaving the jail he was taken to after his arrest. The office of Fernando Martins, his lawyer, confirmed that Batista was being transferred to another jail to await trial.

His arrest is part of an investigation into the laundering and hiding of about $100 million in foreign bank accounts. Prosecutors allege that nearly $80 million of that belonged to Cabral, who is facing several corruption charges and was jailed last year.

Batista told Brazilian TV he was returning “to help clean things up.” He declined to comment on the charges.

Meanwhile, plea bargains in separate cases threaten to implicate other key business and political leaders in the biggest corruption probe in Brazil’s history, an investigation that has already shaken the nation’s power structure.

Supreme Court president Carmen Lucia on Monday validated 77 plea bargains with officials from the Odebrecht construction company, which was one of the main players in a kickback scheme centered on the state’s Petrobras oil company.

The public prosecutor’s office will now review the deals and decide which allegations to investigate. The details are supposed to remain secret for the time being.

Prosecutors say that inflated contracts at Petrobras and other state companies yielded more than $2 billion in bribes over a decade. That investigation has spawned dozens of others, like the one in Rio that implicated Batista, and revealed a level of corruption in Brazil that has shocked even the most cynical. It has ensnared dozens of politicians and executives, many of them implicated by information learned in plea bargains.

One of the most anticipated deals accuses President Michel Temer of seeking and accepting illegal campaign financing, according to testimony obtained by The Associated Press. Temer denies wrongdoing.

If the allegations are confirmed by Brazil’ top electoral court, the president would be removed and Congress would pick a successor.

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DiLorenzo reported from Sao Paulo.

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