By Pedro Fonseca and Ana Mano SAO PAULO, Mar 5 : Federal police said on Monday they arrested the former chief executive of Brazilian food processor BRF SA on charges that he and other executives were aware the company committed fraud in trying to evade food safety checks.
Shares in BRF, the country’s largest chicken exporter, whose board and management were already under fire after the company posted its worst-ever annual results, plunged 15 percent.
The company did not reply to emails and calls seeking comment.
The charges open a new chapter in the federal police investigation of the Brazilian meat industry – dubbed “Weak Flesh” – which started in March 2017, wreaking havoc on the sector and temporarily closing export markets to Brazil, the world’s largest beef and chicken exporter.
In a statement, the police cited evidence that five laboratories accredited by the Agriculture Ministry colluded with the analysis department of BRF to “falsify” test results related to its industrial process.
Pedro Faria, BRF’s chief executive between 2015 and 2017, was one of several people targeted in the new phase of the probe and was taken into custody in Curitiba, Paran?, police said.
“The fraud had the intention to cheat inspection services so as to prevent the Agriculture Ministry from controlling the quality of the industrial process of the company under investigation,” the police said.
In a court ruling authorizing the arrests, Judge Andr? Duszczak said Faria and other BRF officers sought to cover up claims of possible food contamination, as shown in certain laboratory tests, made by a former employee in a labor lawsuit.
A lawyer for Faria could not immediately be identified.
Maur?cio Moscardi Grillo, a federal police investigator, said officers “at all hierarchical levels, from the chief executive to the quality control manager” had knowledge of efforts to dodge food inspections and safety checks.
H?lio dos Santos J?nior, who resigned last week as vice president of global operations, was also taken into custody, the police said.
Over the weekend, pension funds which are BRF’s largest shareholders presented a list of 10 candidates for seats on the board in a bid to shake up the business. A BRF board meeting had been scheduled to take place on Monday, but it was not immediately clear if it was held.