The Americanas crisis gained new chapters after Miguel Gutierrez, an executive who led the company for 20 years, stated that billionaire Carlos Alberto Sicupira was aware of all the retailer’s strategic decisions. Until then, Gutierrez and other former directors were the main accused of the accounting frauds that led the national commerce giant to file for judicial recovery and accumulate debts of R$43 billion.
In March, Gutierrez gave a statement to the Securities and Exchange Commission (CVM), an agency that regulates the operation of companies with shares sold on the stock exchange. The content of this statement was revealed this Monday (11) by Uol. In it, the executive mentions Sicupira, whom he calls Beto.
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“Beto was my boss. And all the interconnection (mine with the Americanas council was through Beto. And Beto left as head of the council in 2020 – which was a plan programmed in 2019, he was going to leave and then I would go to the council again. So, during this period, my contact with Beto was always very intense,” said Gutierrez. “I had a 20-year working relationship with Beto. You obviously create a closeness.”
Carlos Alberto Sicupira is the fifth richest Brazilian, according to a ranking released by Forbes magazine on the 31st. According to the publication, he owns more than R$41 billion. This, in fact, is almost R$1.5 billion more than he had last year – growth of 3.6%, despite the Americanas crisis, of which he has been a partner since the 1980s.
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At Americanas and other companies, Sicupira is an investment partner of Jorge Paulo Lemann, the second richest Brazilian, and Marcel Herrmann Telles, fourth. The three investors founded 3G Capital, which owns the Ambev brewery and other companies.
Gutierrez also gave written testimony to the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry (CPI) investigating the Americanas crisis last week. He stated that Lemann and Telles were also aware of the company’s accounting situation.
“The company stumbles in trying to protect people who would be much better able to compensate it for the damages it claims to have suffered,” he wrote.
Gutierrez’s statements changed the outlook of the case. This is because Americanas has always accused Gutierrez and former directors of fraud and shielded its billionaire partners.
In June, also to the CPI, the company said that its accounting was fraudulent so that it presented higher profits than it actually obtained. He also reported that the manipulation occurred for a “significant period” and that it totaled R$45 billion.
With more profit on paper, directors earned bonuses. Shareholders, including the 3G trio, also earned more in dividends.
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Despite this gain for Lemann, Telles and Sicupira, Americanas never pointed out that they could have been aware of the frauds or participated in them. This, however, raised suspicions among capital market experts even at that time.
The president of the Brazilian Association of Investors (Abradin), economist Aurélio Valporto, was one of those who found Americanas’ version implausible. “The impression that was left was that the company sought to shield the board of directors and reference shareholders”, he stated, to Brasil de Fato, in June.
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Economist André Roncaglia, professor at the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp), also doubted the Americanas’ explanations.
“The legal assistance hired clearly tries to shield the controlling shareholders: the trio Lemann, Telles and Sicupira”, he stated.
In the same week that the former president of Americanas gave testimony, Bradesco, which has R$4 billion to receive from the retailer, sent a petition to the Court with Gutierrez’s letter attached. In the process, Bradesco requests the early production of evidence about the crisis in the company to clarify responsibilities for it.
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The trio of billionaires, in fact, have already been involved in suspected frauds very similar to those now found in Americanas. BTG Pactual bank, another creditor, recalled these cases when it went to court to block around R$1 billion from the company in January.
“In 2005, they were accused of having abused their power of control, by distorting the objectives of Ambev’s share purchase option plan”, narrated BTG. “Jorge Paulo Lemann, Marcel Telles and Carlos Alberto Sicupira, were also accused, as administrators of Ambev, of having breached their fiduciary duties to the company.”
The case was the subject of a CVM process. It was closed after an agreement that involved the payment of R$15 million.
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BTG also reported the case of Kraft Heinz, a company that manufactures the famous ketchup and which was also controlled by Lemann. In 2019, it would also have admitted inconsistencies of US$15 billion (more than R$72 billion) in its balance sheet (around R$75 billion at current prices). He paid a fine of US$62 million (more than R$310 million) to the US government to end a case that was taking place there.
Americans hit back
Americanas refuted Gutierrez’s accusations. He said that she tells lies to exempt her “responsibility and direct relationship with the results fraud identified”.
The company also explained that not all actions taken by Americanas’ former management were submitted for approval to any shareholder or member of the Board of Directors. “As in any public company and under the terms of applicable legislation, operational and day-to-day decisions at Americanas were made exclusively by the board of directors, led by Mr. Miguel for 20 years,” he added.
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Regarding Bradesco’s action, Americanas said that the bank tries to “piggyback” on Gutierrez’s theses to take advantage of it.
Jorge Paulo Lemann, Carlos Alberto Sicupira and Marcel Telles informed via their advisors that they lost R$1.6 billion with Americanas over ten years. They invested R$2.3 billion and received R$700 million.
They said they trust the authorities to clarify blame for the fraud. They also declared that they were committed to the company’s recovery.
Editing: Thalita Pires