May 30, 2017 / 8:53 PM / a year ago

Argentina farm group says to ask Congress for JBS investigation

BUENOS AIRES, May 30 (Reuters) - The head of one of Argentina’s largest farm groups will ask Congress to investigate five acquisitions made by Brazilian meatpacker JBS over more than a decade due to suspicion of overpricing, he told Reuters on Tuesday.

Dardo Chiesa, head of Argentina’s Rural Confederation (CRA), said the company, whose founders are mired in a corruption scandal that threatens to topple Brazil’s president, bought Argentine companies “at exorbitant prices to compete unfairly.”

Chiesa said he was scheduled to speak before Congress next week and would reveal his suspicions that JBS paid bribes in order to be favored in export quotas managed by former President Cristina Fernandez’s government. He said he did not have any proof of bribes.

“We are going to gather information first but there is information we want to investigate that they won’t give to CRA... either a congressional committee takes it or it goes to a prosecutor,” he said.

JBS, which did not immediately respond to request for comment, bought five meatpackers in Argentina, several of which have since shut down.

“ColCar was worth $3 million, they paid $15 million. Venado Tuerto was worth $6 (million) and they paid $27 (million),” Chiesa said. Other companies JBS bought in Argentina were Swift Rosario, Frigorifico Pontevedra, and Frigorifico San Jose.

Argentina under President Mauricio Macri has been trying to recover its standing as a top global beef exporter that was lost during the Fernandez government.

JBS grew from a family-run butcher to the world’s top beef company with operations in the United States and Australia thanks to financing from Brazil’s state development bank BNDES.

“You see the president of JBS recognizing he paid bribes in Brazil. And here?” said Chiesa.

Joesley Batista resigned last week as chairman after pressure from BNDES. (Writing by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by David Gregorio)

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