Cargill Faces Brazil Criminal Probe

October 3, 2023

© prasitphoto / Adobe Stock
© prasitphoto / Adobe Stock

Brazilian federal prosecutors are investigating transactions involving grains trader Cargill and a Brazilian partner after they found "irregularities" in the acquisition of disputed land where the U.S. company plans to build a massive river port in the Amazon rainforest.

A spokesperson for the federal prosecutors' office in Para state said they opened the criminal investigation after two prosecutors drafted a July memo, seen by Reuters, questioning the legality of the transaction due to suspected anomalies in the paperwork. The progress of the criminal probe remains confidential.

"The chain of ownership of private land transfers, presented by the companies to substantiate the legality of the purchase and sale ... showed signs of being completely precarious and lacking minimum requirements to be considered legal," wrote prosecutors in the memo, first reported by news website Sumauma on Monday.

A Cargill spokesperson said the investigation was a "surprise," adding the trader obtained legal use and possession of a plot of land in Abaetetuba, Para state, where it is evaluating the feasibility of building a grain export terminal.

Brazilian firm Brick Consultoria em Gestao Limitada, which transferred the land to Cargill at an unspecified date according to prosecutors, did not reply to requests for comment.

In 2017, Cargill announced plans to invest in a new $178 million port at Abaetetuba, where it aims to eventually move some 9 million metric tons of grains annually from barges to cargo ships for export.

However, families in the area where Cargill plans to build the port say federal land reform agency INCRA set aside part of the land for them in 2005, denominating it the Santo Afonso Agroextractivist Settlement Area, according to court documents.

The prosecutors said INCRA and the Para federal heritage agency (SPU) should have stopped the sale and their officials should be probed too for failing to do so.

INCRA and SPU did not reply to requests for comment.

Even before the criminal probe, the federal prosecutors in Para had requested a court order suspending the river port project, citing evidence that the area destined for its use was obtained illegally "through land grabbing."

A judge has still not ruled on that request.

Cargill, which runs three other river ports in the Amazon, said its environmental impact studies for the port are awaiting analysis by state environmental officials for a preliminary license.

"We have not and will not build a terminal until all required permits are in place and we have consulted with local communities," Cargill said in a written statement.

(Reuters - Reporting by Ana Mano; Editing by Brad Haynes and Aurora Ellis)

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