Lebanese tycoon busted in Brazil bribery ring

'Stock Market King' charged with money laundering


Brazilian police arrested a prominent banker, a Lebanese-born business tycoon, and the former mayor of Sao Paulo among others in raids on Tuesday that put the spotlight back on a bribery scandal that rocked the government in 2005.

Banker Daniel Dantas, the head of the Opportunity financial group, was accused of masterminding a "criminal organization," a complex network of companies, loans and transactions, which focused on diverting public funds, police said.

The Lebanese-born investor Naji Nahas -- called "King of the Stock Market" -- and former Sao Paulo Mayor Celso Pitta were also arrested for involvement in Dantas' suspected ring.

Nahas, who owns 27 companies working in a variety of fields such as banking, oil, real estate and transportation, was additionally accused of running a money-laundering operation that used the black market in foreign exchange.

The federal police said 300 officers took part in the operation in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, the capital Brasilia and in the northeastern city of Salvador.

They had 56 search warrants and 24 arrest warrants as part of the probe, which police said was the result of four years of investigations.

Nahas, 74, received a prison term for illegal financial trades that led to brokerage collapses and a stock market slump in 1989. He was later absolved of those crimes but remains a controversial figure in the Brazilian financial world.

Lebanon’s ambassador to Brazil, who has been a close friend of Nahas for 20 years, told AlArabiya.net in a phone interview that he didn't know if there were more Lebanese businessmen among the 24 people arrested.

He said he hoped the incident would not have a negative impact on the 6 million Lebanese in Brazil, adding that he stood by his long-time friend Nahas.

"Many people envy Naji Nahas because he is a billionaire, and I'm sure the investigations will prove that he is innocent," the ambassador said.

Nahas came to Brazil from Beirut in 1969 and started his business by buying a ranch in Sao Paulo. His fortune eventually grew to over 2 billion dollars.

Pitta was Sao Paulo's mayor from 1997 to 2000 in an administration dogged by corruption allegations. It was unclear from officials' statements what role was played by Pitta.

Among the other 21 arrested were Dantas' sister and Nahas' son.

Nahas also made headlines when he threw the biggest wedding party in Latin America for his daughter, flying in people from five continents on nine private jets. The wedding was said to cost more than 8 million dollars.

(Special correspondent Kamal Qabisi contributed to this report; Some translation from Arabic by Sonia Farid).