Mining Tycoon, Once Brazil’s Richest Man, Is Sentenced to 30 Years in Prison

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RIO DE JANEIRO — Eike Batista, an oil and mining tycoon who just years ago was on a quest to use his vast fortune to turbocharge Brazil’s growth, was sentenced to 30 years in prison this week on charges of paying more than $16.5 million in bribes.

Mr. Batista, a flamboyant businessman whose meteoric rise and dramatic fall mirrored the boom-and-bust cycle that has rattled Brazil over the past decade, is among the best-known Brazilians implicated in the corruption scandal known as Lava Jato, or Car Wash.

Federal Judge Marcelo Bretas, who is based in Rio de Janeiro, found that Mr. Batista had bribed Sérgio Cabral, the Rio de Janeiro governor, to secure public contracts.

Judge Bretas sentenced Mr. Cabral, who has been convicted in several other corruption cases, to 22 years in prison, pushing his total prison sentence to more than 120 years.

In a 119-page order explaining the Batista sentence — which was signed on Monday and made public on Tuesday — Judge Bretas said Mr. Batista’s public stature made his crimes all the more egregious.

Mr. Batista was “a businessman who was known outside, and exactly because of it, his criminal practices had the potential to contaminate the business environment and the reputation of Brazilian businessmen,” the judge wrote. The crimes, he added, created “deep scars in the trust of investors and entrepreneurs who, until recently, saw Brazil as a good investment option.”

Mr. Batista is perhaps the highest-profile businessman sentenced in the Car Wash scandal, which has doomed the political careers of several towering political figures, including former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva; a former speaker of the lower house of Congress, Eduardo Cunha; and Mr. Cabral.

Fernando Martins, Mr. Batista’s lawyer, said in a text message that he expected his client would remain free while the conviction was appealed. People convicted of white-collar crimes in Brazil are often allowed to remain free until their conviction and sentence have been reviewed by an appeals court.

Mr. Batista got his start in business mining for gold in the Amazon when he was in his 20s. As his wealth multiplied, he became the rare, unabashedly ambitious and ostentatious billionaire in South America, where rich families tend to keep a lower profile.

“I want to help a whole generation of Brazilians to be proud,” he said in an interview in 2007. “I am rich, yes. I have built it myself. I have not stolen it. Show it. Just brutally show it.”

At the time, Mr. Batista, who ran EBX Corporation, told investors that Brazil had exponential growth potential and billed himself as the best vehicle for those who wanted to cash in.

“My racehorse is Brazil,” he said. “And Brazil today has the wealth that America had at the turn of the century.”

In 2012, Mr. Batista was worth an estimated $30 billion, making him the seventh-wealthiest man in the world, according to Forbes magazine.

During the peak of his influence, Mr. Batista portrayed himself as a philanthropic executive committed to improving his home city, Rio de Janeiro. He donated cars for the local police force, invested in the renovation of a famous hotel and set out to clean up a lake that was seen as a central site for the 2016 Olympic Games.

He vowed publicly to overtake Mexican telecommunications magnate Carlos Slim as the world’s richest man by 2015, but his empire began to crumble well before that.

Mr. Batista’s oil company filed for bankruptcy in 2013 after his oil fields were producing a fraction of what he had committed, prompting investors to withdraw from several of his ventures.

His fortune declined as Brazil’s economy entered into a recession in 2014 and federal investigators began exposing a vast web of kickback schemes that crippled several of the country’s top companies.

The authorities charged Mr. Batista, 61, with money laundering and corruption in late January 2017, while he was in the United States. As he flew home to surrender a few days later, he told reporters he was returning voluntarily “to respond to the justice system, as is my duty.”

Mr. Batista was held in an ordinary prison for three months while awaiting trial, but the Supreme Court ruled that he could remain free while the case moved forward.

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