(Adds BRF statement and share close)
By Ana Mano
SAO PAULO, Oct 1 (Reuters) - Brazilian meatpacker BRF SA has admitted to bribing food inspectors with bank deposits and health benefits, police said on Tuesday, although the company itself avoided raids as it was cooperating with the latest phase of the corruption probe.
Police said the fourth phase of the so-called Weak Flesh investigation involved evidence from the company of some 19 million reais ($4.56 million) in bribes paid up until 2017, when BRF overhauled its management.
BRF said none of its offices or production sites were targeted in the latest phase of the probe.
The company’s shares fell nearly 2% in opening trade before trimming losses to close 0.55% lower, in line with Brazil’s benchmark Bovespa stock index.
People involved in the scheme are no longer working at the meatpacker, which is not itself under investigation in the two-year-old probe, police said.
Investigators are still negotiating a formal leniency agreement with BRF in return for its continued cooperation, according to a person familiar with the matter who requested anonymity.
When the scandal first broke in 2017 it led to the temporary closure of export markets and 12 BRF plants are still banned from selling meat products to the European Union.
Thirty-nine of the 60 inspectors targeted in the investigation remained on active duty, police said.
The inspectors answer to the Agriculture Ministry, which said it had overhauled its food inspections.
The ministry reiterated “trust” in the 2,500 food inspectors who remain in service, saying bribery accusations against some of the inspectors working for the ministry “were an exception to the rule.”
BRF began cooperating with investigators in the second half of last year, prosecutors said in a court document.
$1 = 4.1695 reais Reporting by Ana Mano Editing by Brad Haynes, Grant McCool and Sandra Maler