RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazil’s Federal Police dismantled Friday a giant mafia that allegedly paid off inspectors to facilitate the sale of expired and adulterated meat, and which also bribed Brazil’s ruling party, officials said.
Close to 1,100 Federal Police agents took part in the raids in seven of Brazil’s 27 states, where they arrested scores of suspected mafia collaborators including executives of companies like the multinationals BRF and JBF, among the world’s largest meat exporters.
The mafia was led by business owners and executives in the meatpacking industry and inspectors in various states, who took bribes in exchange for looking the other way, Federal Police said in a statement.
Soon after the Federal Police struck, the scandal widened to include politicians of the ruling Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement (PMDB) of President Michel Temer, as well as of the Progressive Party (PP), who, Commissioner Mauricio Moscardi said, were also taking bribes.
As part of the investigation, Federal Police tapped phones and in one conversation, Justice Minister Osmar Serraglio was heard conversing with members of the mafia.
Nonetheless, Moscardi said “there was nothing” that could implicate the minister in that conversation, and gave assurances that “he is not among those under investigation.”
“Public officials, using their power of inspection to demand bribes, facilitated the production of adulterated foodstuffs and issued health certificates without inspecting the foods,” said the statement issued by the Federal Police, which accused officials of protecting corrupt businesses with no concern for the public interest.
Noteworthy among the irregularities detected in two years of investigations were the sale of meat no longer fit to eat, adulteration with chemical products, the sale of products containing an excess of water or that had been stored in conditions of inadequate refrigeration, and new packaging for old, expired products.
Again and again, inspectors failed to do their duty, even in cases where cold cuts were mixed with cardboard.
Superintendents of agricultural inspection were also accused of allowing meat to be shipped to other states from ones where inspectors refused to take part in the criminal operations.
The mafia was discovered precisely because one inspector refused to accept bribes and reported to the Attorney General’s Office that he had been relocated as a punishment for doing his duty.
The 14th Federal Court of the city of Curitiba ordered the arrest of 38 people, the forcible removal of another 77 to police stations, and searches in 194 companies and homes of the accused in the states of Sao Paulo, Brasilia, Parana, Santa Catarina, Rio Grande do Sul, Minas Gerais and Goias.
According to police, those under arrest include executives of BRF, producer of the meat brands Sadia and Perdigao, and JBS, which produces the Bribol, Swift and Seara brands.
The judge handling the case also ordered the seizure of some $322.6 million (1 billion reais) in funds and assets of the accused.