Americanas Billionaire Trio Faces Possible Brazil Congress Probe

(Bloomberg) -- Prospects of a confrontation between Brazil’s congress and the billionaire shareholders behind Americanas SA are growing as enough lawmakers have signed a petition to start an investigation into the financial collapse of the troubled retailer.

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A request to launch the probe received the support of 187 lower house representatives by Wednesday, more than the 171 needed, Andre Fufuca, the lawmaker collecting signatures and a close ally of Speaker Arthur Lira, said in an interview.

Fufuca is expected to file later this week a formal request for the creation of the inquiry committee, which needs to be confirmed by Lira before it starts to work. Americanas filed for bankruptcy in January, about a week after unveiling a hole of nearly $4 billion in its balance sheet.

The billionaire trio that has backed the retailer for the past four decades — Jorge Paulo Lemann, Marcel Telles and Carlos Sicupira — may be invited or even summoned to appear before the committee, according to representative Elmar Nascimento, the leader of the Uniao Brasil party in the lower house. He said the proposal for launching the probe was presented to party leaders on Tuesday, during a meeting at Lira’s official residence, and received broad support.

“Let’s call everyone and identify those responsible,” Nascimento said. “Let’s investigate, it’s not possible that small investors and suppliers suffer the losses.”

Fufuca said he can’t predict who will be summoned but that the committee should go after the “great protagonists.”

“It’s not against group A, B or C. It’s about transparency in the stock market,” said Fufuca.

If the billionaires are called to personally appear before congress, they’d be legally obliged to show up but could remain silent if they wish.

Any findings by lawmakers serve only as basis for possible additional investigations by competent authorities and often yield little result. Yet the noise created by months of televised sessions can be very detrimental to those involved. It could also slow debates about various reforms President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who last month attributed the company’s demise to “fraud,” is seeking to move through congress.

In his request for the opening of the investigation, Fufuca said the Americanas episode affects the credibility of the entire stock market in Brazil.

  • Read More: Americanas Billionaires Offer $1.9 Billion, Unlocking Debt Talks

“It’s in the public interest to ensure that investors trust that the popular economy will never be harmed by any kind of fraud, mistakes or cover-ups in balance sheets, without the government investigating and exposing everything that happened in such cases,” he said.

Securities Regulator

Brazil’s securities regulator, known as CVM, is also probing the irregularities at Americanas and the impact on investors. Sergio Rial, who was chief executive officer of the retailer for just nine days until he resigned on Jan. 11 and unveiled the 20 billion-real hole, was expected to testify on Wednesday about the case at CVM’s headquarters in Rio de Janeiro, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

Americanas didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Asked for confirmation of the meeting, CVM said it doesn’t comment on specific cases. Rial didn’t reply to a message seeking comment.

In a meeting with creditors, representatives of Americanas and the key billionaire shareholders presented a capital increase proposal of 10 billion reais ($1.9 billion), according to a regulatory filing.

(Updated with current number of signatures, comments from congressman Andre Fufuca in second, third, sixth and seventh paragraphs)

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