SAO PAULO – Eike Batista, who was once Brazil’s richest man, made his first statement to police after being arrested and denied – initially, that is – that he would plead guilty in exchange for a reduction in his sentence, if convicted on corruption charges.
Batista, 60, spoke with Federal Police officers in Rio de Janeiro for more than two hours.
Before he was interviewed by the police, the magnate’s defense attorney denied that Batista would sign a plea bargain with law enforcement authorities, a common practice among suspects arrested on corruption charges and a move that has tainted numerous politicians from all Brazilian political parties.
“For the moment, no,” said Batista’s attorney, Fernando Martins, when questioned by reporters about signing a potential plea bargain.
Batista, with an arrest order outstanding against him, voluntarily returned to Rio from New York on Monday after being charged with paying $16.5 million in kickbacks to former Rio de Janeiro Gov. Sergio Cabral – jailed in November for embezzlement – between 2007 and 2014 in connection with public contracts.
He was arrested as soon as he stepped off the plane.
A fictitious contract that simulated the purchase of a gold mine was drawn up to disguise the illegal payment, authorities allege.
Police raided Batista’s Rio de Janeiro home earlier this month.
Investigators found that Cabral set up a criminal organization in 2002 as a regional lawmaker and that it expanded between 2007 and 2014, when he was serving as state governor, prosecutor Leonardo Freitas said earlier this month.
Cabral amassed $100 million in ill-gotten funds that he stashed away in foreign bank accounts, police say.
Batista, who once controlled a conglomerate comprising companies in oil, mining, shipbuilding and other sectors, suffered a spectacular fall from grace due to the plunge in global crude prices and risky business ventures.
Last year, Batista agreed to cooperate in a sprawling bribes-for-inflated contracts probe centered on state oil company Petrobras, admitting that he made undeclared “donations” in 2013 that helped then-President Dilma Rousseff’s administration pay off debt stemming from her successful presidential run three years earlier.
Batista said he made the payments at the request of then-Finance Minister Guido Mantega.
Brazil’s Superior Electoral Court says Batista’s “donations” benefited 13 parties and amounted to 12.6 million reais ($3.8 million).
Batista is currently being held in the Bangu prison in Rio, where Cabral is also being held.