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Brazil firms probed over bribery at meatpacking facilities

International
Sao Paulo - Police detained an executive of BRF on Saturday, as the meat company and rival JBS took out full-page adverts to burnish their image after raids to investigate alleged bribes paid to conceal unsanitary conditions in Brazil’s meatpacking facilities.

Roney Nogueira, a government relations executive with BRF, turned himself over to police for questioning at Guarulhos Airport in São Paulo, a BRF spokesperson said.

The company, along with JBS, is part of a massive meatpacking industry that in recent years made Brazil one of the world’s top exporters of meat.

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A Brazilian meatpacking company BRF SA marketplace is seen in Sao Paulo

Police sought Nogueira, who was returning to Brazil from South Africa, because he allegedly discussed bribing health inspectors, including one who helped prevent the closure of a plant in the state of Goiás, according to court documents.

Police said Friday’s raids were prompted by evidence that some meatpackers had paid inspectors and politicians to overlook the processing of rotten meat and exports with fraudulent documentation and even traces of salmonella.

Highlighting the importance to Brazil of agriculture, one of the few vibrant sectors in an economy still struggling from two years of recession, President Michel Temer was scheduled to meet meat industry executives yesterday, a government spokesperson said.

On Saturday, JBS and BRF launched a public relations offensive to deflect a crisis that threatens an industry with $12billion (R152.6bn) in annual exports.

'Claims false'

In a statement late on Saturday, BRF said some allegations made by police were false or based on faulty understanding. “BRF never sold rotten meat,” the company said, adding that mentions of spoiled or contaminated products by police were specifically tied to smaller meatpackers unrelated to the company.

JBS, the world’s largest meat producer, in an advert on Saturday made similar clarifications, noting that allegations of “adulterated products do not involve any JBS brands".

“Quality is the foremost priority of JBS and its brands,” read one of its full-page adverts in publications that included the major dailies of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

In an email, a JBS spokesperson said the adverts, which also include radio and TV spots, would run across 27 different media outlets throughout today.

BRF, for its part, ran adverts addressing “the millions of consumers whose confidence we have earned", vowing to adhere to the principles of “truth, respect, quality and transparency".

The detection of salmonella in four containers of meat shipped from a BRF plant to Italy violated no regulations in Brazil or Europe, the company said in its separate statement to the media, adding that the strain of the bacteria was considered safe by regulators.

BRF also said allegations that cardboard had been found in its sausage meat were false.

Both companies' shares were hammered after news of the raids. JBS plunged 11 percent, while BRF fell 7 percent on São Paulo's stock exchange.

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