March 10, 2018 / 11:36 PM / a year ago

BRF execs barred from returning to Brazil's top chicken exporter

BRASILIA, March 10 (Reuters) - Executives of major food processor BRF SA who were released by police on Friday will not be able to return to their posts at the company, the world's largest poultry exporter, Brazil's public prosecutor's office said on Saturday.

A Brazilian judge ordered their suspension from their activities in the company to avoid the risk of them interfering with an ongoing investigation that they engaged in fraud to evade food safety inspections.

They were ordered to stay away from the company and any establishments BRF dealt with, including labs.

Police arrested former BRF chief executive officer Pedro Faria, the company's former vice president Helio dos Santos and other executives on Monday on charges that they knew the company engaged in fraud to evade food safety inspections.

All six people were set free on Friday.

BRF shares posted their biggest loss ever on the Sao Paulo stock exchange after the arrests that compounded concerns about the firm's leadership following a 1.1 billion reais ($338 million) loss last year in the fallout from the "Weak Flesh" investigation into alleged bribery of food-sanitation inspectors at BRF and other food Brazilian processors.

Major shareholders have been pushing to replace the entire BRF board of directors and Chairman Abilio Diniz, a billionaire retail magnate, in the wake of last year's scandal.

Faria, BRF's chief executive between 2015 and 2017, and Dos Santos, who resigned last week as BRF's vice president of global operations, spent the week in police custody with four other company officials in Curitiba, Paraná state.

In last year's "Weak Flesh" probe, police accused scores of people, mostly inspectors, of taking bribes in exchange for allowing the sale of rancid meat products, falsifying export documents or failing to inspect meatpacking plants at all.

The scandal prompted several export markets to temporarily close their doors to Brazil, the world's largest exporter of beef as well as chicken.

Brazil's Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi said on Wednesday there was no risk of countries applying new bans on Brazilian meat due to the new phase of the investigation. ($1 = 3.2573 reais) (Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by David Gregorio)

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