Exclusive: Brazil prosecutors charge 11 in probe targeting food processor BRF

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazilian federal prosecutors on Wednesday formally charged 11 persons in connection with a criminal probe accusing the world’s largest chicken exporter BRF SA of evading food safety checks, court filings seen by Reuters showed.

FILE PHOTO: A logo of Brazilian meatpacker BRF SA is seen in the headquarters in Curitiba, Brazil October 1, 2019. REUTERS/Rodolfo Buhrer

The charges center around evidence of falsification of documents and labels between 2012 and 2018, and adulteration of ingredients in nutritional additive products for livestock feed, according to claims filed by prosecutors in the southern Brazilian state of Paraná.

The individuals named in the court documents, who include two former vice-presidents for quality, stand accused of using banned substances and misrepresenting to regulators the amount of certain ingredients used to produce feed premix.

In most cases, the prosecutors said, the substances added to the feed and to the premix by BRF’s employees were “potent antibiotics” whose use is normally restricted for the safety of consumers.

“In order to ensure that wrongdoing was not detected, the accused acted deliberately to deceive federal auditors by committing other frauds, such as the removal of stocks of substances used in the manufacturing of the premix and the manipulation of samples,” the prosecutors said in the filing.

BRF shares neared a session low at 35.95 reais in mid-afternoon trade in São Paulo, but closed 1.68% higher at 36.40 reais.

BRF said in a statement no current member of the administration, director or executive has been charged. One employee working on a technical capacity was preemptively placed on leave as a matter of company policy pending the conclusion of the probe, the company said.

BRF said it will continue cooperating with the probe, adding it does not condone illegal practices.

The charges filed on Wednesday stem from a federal police investigation dubbed “Trickery,” or “Trapaça” in Portuguese, which got underway in March 2018.

Derived from a prior probe called “Weak Flesh,” the criminal cases led to the temporary closure of several export markets to Brazilian meatpackers, including BRF.

The European Union, which banned 20 Brazilian meat purveyors in April 2018, has not yet lifted the measure, which Brussels blamed on “deficiencies” found in Brazil’s control systems.

Of the 20 plants suspended by the EU, 12 are operated by BRF.

The food scandal also caused government-certified laboratories to lose accreditations from a government agency.

Reporting by Ana Mano; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Christopher Cushing