(Adds share performance, comments throughout)
By Guillermo Parra-Bernal
SAO PAULO, Aug 29 (Reuters) - Brazil’s billionaire Batista family has hired a local investment banking firm to mediate talks with a state lender trying to remove family members from the command and board of meatpacker JBS SA amid a bribery scandal, two people familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.
According to the people, the family’s investment holding company J&F Investimentos SA has tasked BR Partners Banco de Investimento SA with negotiating a suspension of a Sept. 1 shareholder assembly in which JBS investors will decide whether to oust Chief Executive Officer Wesley Batista.
A May plea-bargain deal between the Batistas and Brazilian prosecutors revealing that the family bribed hundreds of politicians led the state bank’s investment arm BNDES Participações SA to seek Batista’s ouster. BNDESPar has blamed the family’s conduct for a steep plunge in the company’s stock this year.
According to one of the people, J&F requested on Monday through BR Partners that BNDESPar suspend the assembly for 90 days. The other person said the move comes after news, reported by Reuters on Aug. 25, that BNDESPar asked market watchdog CVM to bar the Batistas from casting a ballot in the assembly. The family owns 42 percent of JBS.
Bankers, company insiders and shareholders asking to remain anonymous told Reuters they have grown skeptical of Batista’s argument that he is uniquely able to complete two upcoming asset sales and list a U.S. food subsidiary next year.
BR Partners, BNDESPar and J&F declined to comment. JBS said in a statement that it is working to fine-tune corporate governance, while defending the interests of all shareholders.
Common shares in JBS were off 0.1 percent at 9.09 reais. JBS rose the past five sessions but is down 20 percent this year. (Additional reporting by Bruno Federowski in São Paulo; Editing by Alden Bentley)