Brazil police launch biggest-ever raid in food fraud probe

RIO DE JANEIRO/SAO PAULO, March 17 (Reuters) - Brazil’s Federal Police on Friday launched massive raids and searches as part of a probe of unnamed food processors accused of bribing regulators to loosen oversight.

In a statement, police said they were carrying out searches across six Brazilian states as part of a probe called “Operation Flesh Is Weak.” More than 1,100 officers were deployed for 194 raids and as many as 38 detention orders.

The size and extent of Operation Flesh Is Weak, the latest in a series of high-profile investigations of corruption in Latin America’s largest economy, makes it “the Federal Police’s largest ever search-and-raid operation ever,” the statement said.

Police said watchdogs in the food-producing states of Paraná, Minas Gerais and Goiás openly helped producers place adulterated products in the marketplace. Food processors would also bribe state food safety auditors to issue fake sanitary permits and forgo normal oversight work.

Local broadcaster TV Globo said companies involved included BRF SA, the world’s largest poultry exporter, and JBS SA, the world’s No. 1 meatpacker.

TV Globo said at least one JBS executive had been detained. JBS’s media office said it was unaware of any detention and denied that police raided the company’s São Paulo-based headquarters.

BRF, also based in São Paulo, did not have an immediate comment. (Reporting by Pedro Fonseca and Guillermo Parra-Bernal; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)