Brazilian Federal Police raided the home of Science and Technology Minister Gilberto Kassab on Wednesday following accusations that he received millions in bribes from the JBS food company between 2010 and 2016.
Prosecutors said they suspect that the minister may have received as much as US$ 13.8 million in exchange for defending the interests of JBS during his tenures as mayor of Sao Paulo and as a congressman.
Brazil’s Supreme Court authorized the operation, which included a total of six search warrants in the states of Sao Paulo and Rio Grande do Norte, followed a request by Attorney General Raquel Dodge.
The Attorney General’s Office said the raid on Kassab’s residence in Sao Paulo followed testimony by the owner of JBS, Wesley Batista, and executive Ricardo Saud, who said that they were responsible for paying the bribes. Batista and Saud are receiving preferential treatment in exchange for their testimony in a variety of corruption cases.
In a statement to Brazilian paper G1, Kassab defended himself saying, “Throughout my years of public service I have never been compromised. I make myself available at the disposition of the courts.”
According to the Attorney General’s Office, Kassab received a monthly payment from JBS between 2010 and 2016 to defend the interests of the company. To obscure the payment, it said, JBS signed a fictitious contract to provide services with a transport company that had a relationship with J&F, the holding company of JBS.
It also said JBS made cash campaign donations in 2014 to the Social Democratic Party — then chaired by Kassab — which was part of a coalition backing Workers Party presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff.
On November 9, the Federal Police arrested Joesley Batista, former director of JBS, one of the world’s largest food companies, as part of an investigation into corruption and irregularities between 2014 and 2015 in the Ministry of Agriculture. However, only three days later the Supreme Court ordered him released, ruling the arrest was unjustified due to Batista’s willingness to cooperate and the antiquity of the accusations.
Executives of JBS told authorities that the company systematically paid bribes in recent years in exchange for political favors, including to sitting President Michel Temer. Temer denies having done anything illegal. The testimony of Batista has been vital in the condemnation of former President Lula da Silva.