Brazil police probe ‘corruption’ in agriculture ministry

Federal police believe the Agriculture Ministry received millions of Brazilian reals in bribes

Brazilian police have opened two separate “corruption” investigations into whether food companies, including meatpackers, received illicit protection from government sometimes in exchange for bribes.

So far, 10 people across four Brazilian states have been arrested as part of the ongoing duo of investigations into alleged government corruption.

The two probes look at whether inspection protocol was eased by Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (MAP) officials for an unspecified number of unnamed agribusiness firms.

These fresh investigations come just months after Brazil’s meat industry was rocked by claims government health inspectors were bribed to ignore food safety crimes. And the new investigations raise serious questions about links between the country’s food industry and government.

Multi-million real cash scheme

One of the newly-launched police probes involves an alleged scheme to move around R$3m ($968,000) in government bribes over six years between 2010 and 2016.

Investigators claim to have evidence that MAP officials received monthly bribes from agribusiness companies to either delay or cancel fines. If guilty, this is a crime carrying a maximum 12-year prison sentence in Brazil.
 
The federal police are also investigating alleged favourable protection of companies in the agribusiness supply chain, as well as the hounding of government food safety inspectors through disciplinary procedures and removal.

More than 100 police officers are involved in this investigation and police claim to have found documents suggesting large companies were protected by MAP staff.

Adulterated fish

It is believed some companies were importing chemically adulterated fish from China. Water and other chemicals are believed to have been added to the imported fish that may have increased its weight – and thus its price.

Federal police claim they suspect adulterated fish imports were diverted without proper reinspection with the complicity of public officials to allow the products to enter Brazil more easily.

The two new investigations have struck at the heart of the Brazil’s farming industry, which was already reeling from the brief loss of export markets that suspended trade following claims of corruption and collusion in the meat sector.

Brazil’s Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi had earlier criticised the federal police for its handling of the national tainted meat investigation, dubbed ‘Weak Flesh’.

In statement from MAP, the government department said it “fully supports” the action of the two federal police investigations and is collaborating with officers. All staff involved in the investigation have been removed from office for 60 days and MAP added it will open its own investigation into the alleged corruption.

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