(Adds share performance, background)
By Ana Mano
SAO PAULO, Oct 19 (Reuters) - Brazil’s BRF SA the world’s largest chicken exporter, said on Friday it has been cooperating with authorities handling a probe into whether it colluded with health officials to evade food safety checks, lifting its shares 1 percent in early trading.
Reuters reported exclusively on Sept. 12 that federal prosecutors leading the probe were seeking cooperation from the firms involved in return for more lenient penalties.
The scandal involving food processor BRF, has disrupted production and caused the temporary closure of export markets to certain Brazilian meat producers.
In April the European Union suspended imports from 20 Brazilian meat plants, 12 belonging to BRF, citing “deficiencies” in the food inspection services that became apparent after the probe.
Earlier this week media outlets reported that BRF would be negotiating a possible leniency deal regarding its role in the far-reaching scheme.
Without disclosing any details, BRF on Friday told the Brazilian securities regulator it has been maintaining “ample and transparent” talks with authorities regarding its participation in any misconduct. It also mentioned an ongoing internal investigation into the matter.
Prosecutors have found “grave irregularities” and will demand the companies carry out a root-and-branch restructuring as part of any leniency deal, federal prosecutor Lyana Helena Joppert Kalluf told Reuters last month.
This week, Brazilian police referred two former BRF executives to federal prosecutors in charge of the probe.
It will be up to the prosecutors to decide whether to file a complaint based on the police findings, seek additional evidence of wrongdoing or end the inquiry due to lack of evidence.
Allegations have been made against 41 other people in the investigation, known as “Weak Flesh,” according to a federal police report released on Monday. (Reporting by Ana Mano; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)