U.S. senators call for probe of Brazilian meatpacker JBS

U.S. senators call for probe of Brazilian meatpacker JBS

Tuesday, October 08, 2019 6:58 p.m. CDT

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Two U.S. senators called on the U.S. Treasury on Tuesday to open an investigation into the world’s largest meat processing company, Brazil’s JBS S.A. , due to alleged ties with the Venezuelan government of leftist President Nicolas Maduro.

President Donald Trump’s government has imposed sanctions on dozens of top Venezuelan officials as well as state oil company PDVSA in an effort to remove Maduro, whom it accuses of fixing elections last year and abusing human rights in the oil-rich nation.

Senators Marco Rubio and Robert Menendez sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin asking for the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to review transactions by JBS, which has bought several American meat companies in recent years, Rubio’s press office said on Twitter.

"This meat-processing conglomerate has engaged in illicit financial activities and has business ties with the Maduro regime," the Twitter post said.

In a statement, JBS said it had always cooperated "transparently" with U.S. authorities regarding "passed events" in Brazil.

It had improved the management of the companies it acquired in the United States, delivering "solid results" that contributed to farm sector growth, JBS added, and continues to provide opportunities to farming and cattle-raising families.

Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In August, Washington froze all Venezuelan state assets in the United States and threatened sanctions on any company continuing to do business with the government.

In their letter to Mnuchin, made public on Tuesday, the senators said CFIUS should investigate the business transactions among JBS, the Venezuelan Corporation of Foreign Trade (CORPOVEX) and Diosdado Cabello, a powerful ally of Maduro who is under U.S. sanctions.

They did not provide further details about the alleged transactions.

The senators said JBS had engaged in the bribery of public officials in Brazil to obtain funds to expand abroad, acquiring in recent years U.S. meat-packer Swift Foods Co and chicken producer Pilgrim’s Pride Corp.

Brothers Joesley and Wesley Batista, founders of JBS’s holding company J&F, signed plea bargain and leniency deals in May 2017, in which they confessed to running a political bribery ring in Brazil.

"We ask CFIUS conduct a review of JBS SA’s acquisition of U.S. companies to assess the implications for security and safety of America’s food supply and, in turn, our national security," the senators said in their letter.

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Clarence Fernandez)