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article imageBrazilian meat billionaire flown to jail in graft scandal

By Damian WROCLAVSKY (AFP)     Sep 11, 2017 in Crime

Brazilian meatpacking billionaire Joesley Batista was flown by police Monday to detention in the capital Brasilia in a corruption scandal centered on President Michel Temer.

The tycoon, who turned himself into authorities on Sunday, arrived in Brasilia from Sao Paulo under heavy guard, wearing a white shirt and jeans.

The force behind the rise of Brazil's JBS meatpacking giant, Batista is accused of holding back evidence in explosive plea bargain testimony that has threatened to bring down Temer.

Supreme Court Justice Edson Fachin said in a written ruling there was evidence that Batista and another executive "omitted... information that they were obliged to provide" as part of their agreement.

Fachin's ruling suspended the suspects' provisional release under the plea bargain and ordered them to be detained for five days.

That detention could now be extended, although Batista's lawyer Antonio Carlos de Almeida said he hopes to get his client out this week.

"We see no reasons why he shouldn't be released," he told AFP.

The allegation against Batista upended the already dramatic corruption saga, which had left Temer fighting to remain in power and has damaged JBS. It also marks a radical change of fate for Batista himself.

- 'Bandit' jibe -

The businessman and his brother Wesley admitted to prosecutors that they had paid millions of dollars in bribes to no less than 1,900 politicians.

It was the kind of large-scale graft network similar to those uncovered in the last three years at other major Brazilian companies. But the real bombshell allegation involved Temer.

Batista had met with Temer at his Brasilia residence in March and secretly recorded the president allegedly discussing payment of hush money to keep an imprisoned former ally from testifying.

That recording and the Batistas' testimony became key weapons in efforts by chief prosecutor Rodrigo Janot to put Temer behind bars. In return for their testimony, the Batista brothers appeared set to avoid prison -- something which shocked Brazilians.

A first criminal charge against Temer of bribe-taking lodged in June was rejected by Congress. However, Janot has been expected to file a second charge of obstruction of justice -- based partly on the Batista recording -- within days.

Now the Batista plea deal agreement, lambasted by Temer as a get-out-of-jail card for a "notorious bandit," is under a cloud. That makes it increasingly unlikely that Congress will approve of the second charge.

Incredibly, the new twist started with what appears to have been a blunder by the tycoon's lawyers.

They were meant to send prosecutors more evidence under the plea deal but seemingly sent by error a recording in which Joesley Batista is said to be heard discussing with a former company director, Ricardo Saud, how he withheld important information from prosecutors.

The scandal has rocked Temer's already deeply unpopular government this year just as it was pushing reforms to try to drag Latin America's biggest economy out of its worst ever recession.

But now, Temer looks increasingly likely to escape his troubles, analysts say. And Janot steps down on Sunday to be replaced by a new chief prosecutor.

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