RIO DE JANEIRO – Prosecutors have filed a formal complaint against Brazilian billionaire Joseph Safra, the world’s wealthiest banker, and five others, alleging they paid bribes to secure tax-debt relief.
The banker is suspected of paying 15.3 million reais (some $4.25 million) in bribes to tax authorities in exchange for their waiving some 1.5 billion reais (around $415 million) in tax debt, the federal prosecutor’s office in Brasilia said in a statement.
That debt corresponds to a unit of investment holding company Grupo Safra known as JS Administradora, which on Thursday denied having bribed tax authorities or receiving any favorable treatment from them.
The complaint was filed Thursday based on intercepts of phone calls in 2014 involving top executives of Banco Safra, tax officials and other former government employees who allegedly acted as intermediaries in the bribery scheme.
Also accused along with Safra were Joao Inacio Puga, a former Banco Safra executive; tax officials Lutero Fernandes do Nascimento and Eduardo Cerqueira; and former government officials Jorge Victor Rodrigues and Jeferson Ribeiro Salazar.
Although Safra was not recorded speaking to the intermediaries, he was named in the complaint because it is “clear” that Puga was negotiating on behalf of the bank and acting at the orders of his “superior,” the prosecutor’s office said.
Safra, the owner of investment bank Safra, is the world’s wealthiest banker with a net worth of $18.1 billion, according to Forbes magazine.