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Brazilian Tycoon Eike Batista's Trial Gets Underway

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Disgraced Brazilian billionaire Eike Batista’s trial began in a Rio de Janeiro court Tuesday. Batista, 58, is facing criminal charges of manipulating financial markets and abusing privileged information to sell shares of his oil companies before the stock collapsed. If convicted, Batista, who was once one of the richest people in the world, is looking at up to 13 years in prison.

Brazilian federal prosecutors say that Eike Batista manipulated stock markets by claiming he was going to invest up to $1 billion to prop up OGX in 2012, but never coming through with the cash.

Statement from trial judge

Unlike in the U.S., judges in Brazil sometimes comment on cases before and during the trial. “This is the first case that a Brazilian businessman of this relevance will stand trial with enough proof indicating he could go to jail,” said Flavio Roberto de Souza, the judge who is presiding over Batista’s trial.

Brazil cracking down on white collar crime

Batista’s trial comes in the backdrop of Brazil’s federal police arresting several of Brazil’s most prominent construction industry executives on charges relating to embezzlement at state oil firm Petroleo Brasileiro Petrobras SA (ADR) (NYSE:PBR). Several suspects have testified that some of the money from large Petrobras contracts was illegally sent to the ruling Workers’ Party. Current Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff says she knows nothing about the alleged kickback scheme.

The rise and fall of Eike Batista

Batista initially rode to multi-billionaire status on a wave of optimism that overtook Latin America’s largest economy in as strong demand for raw materials from China fueled a commodities boom. Beginning in 2006, he tool five startups public over five years, raising billions of dollars and building a commodities empire of companies with names ending in “X”, supposedly standing for multiplication of wealth.

However Eike Batista’s empire collapsed in 2012 after his biggest oil company OGX Petroleo e Gas Participaces SA missed production targets, leading to debt calls against his industrial holdings and forcing OGX to declare bankruptcy in 2013.  Of note, Batista’s fortune was valued at more than $30 billion in early 2012. He now claims that he owes $1 billion more than his assets. Brazilian courts have frozen more than $50 million of Eike Batista’s assets.

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