BTG's Esteves Should Be Acquitted, Brazilian Prosecutors Say

(Bloomberg) -- Andre Esteves, the billionaire founder of investment bank Grupo BTG Pactual, didn’t participate in a corruption scheme and should be acquitted by the court, the Brazilian Prosecutor’s Office said late Friday.

There is “no sufficient proof” against the banker, the office said in a filing to a federal court in Brasilia signed by prosecutor Ivan Claudio Marx. Esteves, when invited, declined to participate in the scheme, according to the filing. He has always denied wrongdoing.

The banker’s lawyer, Antonio Carlos de Almeida Castro, estimated the federal court will take about a month to deliberate and probably will acquit Esteves. The prosecutor’s statement “demonstrates the absolute innocence” of Esteves, the lawyer said. “Besides all the prejudice, what interests us most is to see the truth be re-established.” The bank declined to comment on any possible future role for Esteves at the company.

Esteves spent three weeks in Rio de Janeiro’s Bangu prison in 2015, after being caught up in a sweeping corruption probe. The banker was charged with participating in a scheme to tamper with testimony of a former Petroleo Brasileiro SA executive, Nestor Cervero.

The Sao Paulo-based investment bank, whose fallen chief once joked that its initials stood for “better than Goldman” -- the U.S.’ Goldman Sachs Group Inc. -- welcomed Esteves back as a senior partner two days after he was freed from house arrest in April 2016.

The company he returned to was a shadow of the empire he left. Nine days after Esteves’s arrest, facing a liquidity crisis amid a surge in redemptions, the bank obtained a rescue of 6 billion reais ($1.9 billion) from Brazil’s privately owned deposit-insurance fund. In the following months, BTG unloaded more than $3.5 billion in assets and cut jobs in offices around Latin America and in London and New York, reducing its Brazil payroll by more than 20 percent. The stock lost more than 35 percent of its value at the time.

Management scratched ambitions for the bank to become a global powerhouse, with, among other things, a wealth-management business on several continents. In November 2016, BTG completed the sale of BSI, its Swiss private-bank unit, to EFG International AG.

Now, the bank has 119.1 billion reais in total assets, down from 302.8 billion reais in September 2015 before Esteves’ arrest.

It was 11 years ago that Esteves made a splash -- and became Brazil’s youngest self-made billionaire -- by selling Pactual to UBS AG for $2.6 billion. He and several partners bought it back three years later and set off on an expansion, snapping up businesses including the Swiss private-banking unit of Assicurazioni Generali SpA. BTG went public in 2012.