The former chief executive officer of embattled Brazilian retailer Americanas SA Miguel Gutierrez spoke out for the first time since the company sank into bankruptcy protection and pointed a finger at the firm’s billionaire shareholders.
(Bloomberg) — The former chief executive officer of embattled Brazilian retailer Americanas SA Miguel Gutierrez spoke out for the first time since the company sank into bankruptcy protection and pointed a finger at the firm’s billionaire shareholders.
Gutierrez, who worked at the retailer for more than two decades and has been signaled by current and former executives as the architect behind a massive accounting fraud that caused the firm’s debt to double, sent his comments in a document to a court in Sao Paulo. He argued that he never participated, authorized, ordered, tolerated or was aware of any attempt to manipulate the company’s financial accounts.
“I became a scapegoat to be sacrificed in the name of protecting notorious and powerful figures of Brazilian capitalism,” he said, in a separate document sent to a congressional commission investigating the case.
The billionaire shareholders are Brazil’s richest men, Jorge Paulo Lemann, Marcel Telles and Carlos Sicupira, who co-founded buyout firm 3G Capital and were the architects of major merger and acquisition deals over the past several decades that resulted in Anheuser-Busch Inbev SA and Kraft Heinz Co. The trio, who collectively have fortunes of about $39 billion, have been long-time leading shareholders of Americanas but claim to have been unaware of the accounting issues that came to light in January.
In one of the documents, Gutierrez said the company’s top shareholders, Lemann, Telles and Sicupira have “enormous and constant interference in their businesses, especially in the financial area, in which they are recognized experts.”
He said Americanas’ sales were monitored daily by Sicupira and Eduardo Saggioro, chairman of Americanas and a partner at LTS Investments, which is their family office.
“It’s worth noting that the members of the audit committee and the financial committee, as well as those of the fiscal council, were appointed or always validated” by Sicupira, Gutierrez wrote. In addition, the board of directors was also responsible for authorizing changes in the company’s accounting policies, he said.
LTS said in an emailed statement that Gutierrez has no proof to back up his claims and that shareholders “were deceived by a cunning fraud whose wrongdoers will be held accountable by competent authorities.” Americanas said it disputes the arguments presented by its former CEO and reinforces its June statement about the fraud.
In June, the current top executive at Americanas, Leonardo Coelho, accused Gutierrez and his management team of fraud by — among other things — creating false advertising contracts to reduce costs on the balance sheet that ballooned to 21.7 billion reais ($4.5 billion) as of Sept. 30 2022, citing information from an independent investigation. In addition, part of the money was shifted into suppliers accounts to cover the hole, Coelho said.
On Monday, Gutierrez said the claim was false and that the independent committee had no participation in the “accusation” the company made against him. Gutierrez, who is also a Spanish citizen, has been in that European country recently and cited health issues for why he was unable to return to Brazil to speak to the congressional committee.
Americanas continues to negotiate a restructuring plan with banks after falling into bankruptcy protection in January with a total debt of more than 40 billion reais.
–With assistance from Daniel Carvalho.
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