The history of global meat company JBS is so strewn with villainy you do wonder where to start.

In 2017, it paid a $4.5 billion fine after its billionaire owners and then-leaders Wesley and Joesley Batista admitted the company had bribed 1829 Brazilian politicians. Soon after, both spent time in jail on insider trading charges.

US activists decry JBS’ animal welfare standards. Regulators raise alarm over its safety practices. It has attracted scrutiny and fierce opposition from the US to its native Brazil. But far less so here, where its burgeoning and thriving local endeavours have multiple times sailed through Foreign Investment Review Board approval.

What happens elsewhere shouldn’t affect the company here, its local managers have spent years insisting, as the local operations are entirely removed from anything dodgy.

But that doesn’t mean said operations have not benefited from what’s gone on years before their formation, nor that their continuing success doesn’t enrich the aforementioned Batista brothers.

Wesley Batista and Josh Frydenberg at a Northern development conference in 2018.  Glenn Campbell

Still, JBS Australia chief Brent Eastwood again trotted out the “nothing to do with us” line in The Australian on Wednesday, ahead of a keynote speech where he stressed the same points and lamented the shots of “keyboard warriors”, “disgruntled under bidders”, and “fiction writers”.

“What happened in Brazil no one can deny,” he said, though it happened “many years ago” and “the people that were involved in that are not on the board in any way, shape or form.

“Australia was not involved in anything,” he insisted.

And truly, no one could suggest anyone working for or on behalf of JBS Australia paid off officials in Brazil, or took part in any other offshore malfeasance.

But these historic bribes had a purpose, namely: the extension of cheap financing from the Brazilian state.

As Four Corners recently outlined, that financing went directly to funding JBS’ global expansion, including the 2008 purchase of Tasman Group in Australia, as Joesley Batista told Brazilian prosecutors.

It also financed the 2007 purchase of US company Swift Foods, whose Australian subsidiary provided JBS with its first local foothold.

All operational involvement of Joesley and Wesley Batista has now ceased. Though they remain major shareholders, profiting from the global expansion facilitated with corruptly obtained cheap loans.

As for the “independent board” referred to by Eastwood, it presently seats family patriarch and JBS founder Jose Batista Sobrinho. Eastwood himself reports to family scion Wesley Batista Filho, operational head of Oceana and Wesley senior’s son.

Neither the grandfather nor the grandson were implicated in the Brazilian corruption scandal.

But to put this in local context, consider if the revelations of governance failures at Crown Resorts were solved not by the relatively lily-white James Packer’s forced divestment, but merely the appointment of his entirely blameless and publicly beloved mother Roslyn to handle his Crown affairs instead.

Turns out our gambling regulators have teeth after all!

Eastwood, for what it’s worth, is a JBS insider of multiple decades. When he was appointed chief operating officer of JBS’ Queensland and New South Wales divisions in 2012, his promotion (with two others) earned a laudatory comment from Wesley Batista himself.

“These three professionals are completely aligned with our culture and management style,” the release said.

High praise at the time, but given its originator, not an accolade likely to make the resume.

By Myriam Robin

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