RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Former billionaire Eike Batista, once Brazil’s richest man, is scheduled to arrive in Rio de Janeiro early on Monday, where he is wanted by police in connection with charges including an alleged bribe of about $16 million to a former governor.
“I am returning to answer to the courts, as is my duty,” Batista said in a brief interview with Brazil’s Globo television network at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. “It’s time for me to clear this up.”
Batista, a brash entrepreneur who became the face of Brazil’s fizzled commodities boom, had been sought since last week by Brazilian police, who raided his Rio mansion and confiscated his luxury cars as part of their bribery investigation.
Since the raid, a Brazilian judge has declared him a fugitive and requested his name be added to a wanted list maintained by Interpol, the international police agency. Local media speculated whether Batista, who also holds a German passport, would seek to evade justice.
In the Globo interview, Batista said he never intended to flee and had been in New York on business. Batista declined to answer the reporter’s question about whether he considered himself guilty or innocent.
Just five years ago, Batista, now 60, was calculated to have a net worth exceeding $30 billion and was considered among the world’s 10 richest people. A former wildcat gold miner, he attracted ravenous demand for shares in his mining and energy ventures.
With the decline in oil and mineral prices in recent years, Brazil entered a recession, and Batista’s empire evaporated. As the bonanza faded, investigators in Brazil discovered huge amounts of corruption around many major projects of the boom years.
Starting with a probe into kickbacks around state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA, or Petrobras, the investigation shed light on a culture of bribery among government officials, politicians and many big companies, especially engineering, energy and infrastructure groups reliant on public licenses and contracts.
Police said last week that Batista had paid roughly $16 million to former Rio Governor Sergio Cabral in exchange for support of the businessman’s many Rio-based endeavors. Cabral, who resigned from office in 2014, has been jailed since last year for a series of other major corruption charges.
Batista checked in on an American Airlines flight scheduled to land at 10:30 a.m. Rio time.
(Reporting by Paulo Prada; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Peter Cooney)