RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazil’s President Michel Temer said on Saturday that the owners of meatpacking giant JBS had leveled serious accusations against him in retaliation for a decision that caused the company to suffer major financial losses and prevented the business leaders from evading justice.
Temer issued the statement following the latest allegations by JBS co-owner Joesley Batista, who said in an interview published Saturday that the president headed up Brazil’s biggest and most dangerous mafia.
The president said those accusations stemmed from his administration’s decision to bar him and his brother Wesley from relocating JBS’ legal domicile from Sao Paulo to Ireland.
“It was an excellent business for him (Joesley Batista) but terrible for the Brazilian taxpayer. Due to that decision, the Batista family suffered significant stock-market losses and remained within the reach of the Brazilian authorities. They had millions of reasons to hate the president and his administration,” Temer said in the statement.
Batista’s allegedly unfounded accusations allowed him to negotiate a plea deal with prosecutors that shielded him from prosecution and allowed him to avoid prison time and salvage his family’s fortune, the head of state added.
“Mr. Joesley Batista is the most successful criminal in Brazilian history. He enriched himself with practices he won’t have to answer for and today has his assets abroad with the blessing of the courts,” Temer wrote.
“He accuses others of his own crimes and protects his real partners,” Temer said, insinuating that Batista enriched himself thanks to business deals facilitated by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Batista also has accused of Lula and his protege and successor, Dilma Rousseff, of granting JBS political favors and accepting tens of millions of dollars in bribes in return.
The president said JBS obtained its first subsidized loan from Lula’s government in 2005 and “that relationship built with previous governments” enabled JBS’ revenue to climb from 4 billion reais ($1.25 billion) in 2007 to 183 billion reais in 2016.
Temer also vowed to file civil and criminal lawsuits against Batista, saying the business leader’s “lies will be exposed.”
The president issued the statement shortly after the Epoca weekly published an interview with the JBS owner in which he accused Temer of being the leader of the country’s biggest and most dangerous criminal organization.
Michel Temer “is the head of the criminal organization that operates in the Chamber (of Deputies),” Brazil’s lower house of Congress, Joesley Batista, one of the owners of Brazilian multinational meatpacking giant JBS, said in an interview with the Epoca weekly.
Batista said a mafia of politicians had continually demanded that he pay bribes and make illegal donations to election campaigns; in return, his companies received favors or were allowed to operate unhindered.
He added that the group’s leaders included Temer, an erstwhile speaker of the lower house; and Eduardo Cunha, also a former lower-house speaker and one of the highest-profile politicians to be sentenced to prison in the sprawling Lava Jato (Car Wash) investigation into a $2 billion bribes-for-inflated contracts scheme centered on state oil company Petrobras.
He said Temer called him every time he needed campaign donations for his Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) and its political allies or money for personal reasons.
Joesley Batista told the weekly that the payments were necessary because the group had control over offices that were crucial to JBS’ operations, including agencies linked to the Agriculture Ministry.
He added that the illegal funding initially was channeled through lobbyist Lucio Funaro and then subsequently through Cunha.
After Funaro and Cunha were arrested on corruption charges, the group demanded that JBS continue to make hush-money payments to those men, he said.
Batista, who has entered into a plea deal with prosecutors, returned to Brazil on Sunday after having been authorized to leave the country due to alleged threats against his family.
Last month, Brazil’s Supreme Court launched a probe into the president based on allegations by the Batista brothers that Temer encouraged the payment of hush money to Cunha.
As part of a plea deal, the JBS owners handed prosecutors a secretly taped audio recording in which Temer appeared to say that bribes needed to continue to flow to the former lower-house speaker, who received a more than 15-year prison sentence for corruption earlier this year.
Cunha spearheaded the effort that led last year to the ouster of Rousseff via impeachment.
Temer, who served as Rousseff’s vice president from 2011-2016, turned against his boss, supported the impeachment process and eventually succeeded her in office.