(Adds lawyers statement, context of Batista’s cooperation with authorities)
By Pedro Fonseca
RIO DE JANEIRO, Nov 9 (Reuters) – One of the controlling shareholders of meatpacker JBS SA was arrested on Friday, a lawyer for the suspect said, in connection with what authorities described as an ongoing police inquiry into illegal campaign contributions.
Lawyer André Callegari said Joesley Batista’s jailing on Friday was only expected to be temporary, but declined to elaborate on the arrest order or the investigation.
Earlier in the day, the federal police and tax authorities said they were investigating allegations that a large meatpacking firm, which they did not identify, had provided illegal campaign funding to lawmakers from various parties and officials at the Agriculture Ministry.
The federal police were serving multiple arrest and search warrants related to the investigation in five states and in Brasília, the capital, according to the police and the federal revenue service, which are jointly conducting the probe.
Batista’s arrest is the latest blow to JBS’s controlling family, which last year signed cooperation agreements with authorities, admitting to bribing scores of politicians to advance their business interests.
“Joesley Batista has been strictly abiding with the terms of his agreement to cooperate with authorities,” Callegari said. Batista has testified on multiple occasions and has given evidence to authorities, he said.
Batista and Ricardo Saud, a lawyer for J&F Investimentos, which controls JBS, were arrested in September on charges of concealing information related to their plea agreements with federal prosecutors. They were both released in March.
Saud was also arrested in Friday’s operations, his press representative said.
Officials from the Agriculture Ministry were not immediately available for comment. A JBS press representative referred questions to J&F, which did not have additional comments related to Batista’s arrest.
Two large retailers based in the state of Minas Gerais were also involved in the case, which the tax authority and police said took place between 2014 and 2015. They did not name the retailers.
The tax authority said 22 million reais ($5.85 million) in bribes may have been paid to politicians and government officials. ($1 = 3.7604 reais) (Reporting by Pedro Fonseca; Writing by Ana Mano; Editing by Jason Neely, Kirsten Donovan and Jeffrey Benkoe)