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Brazil judge orders return of ex-billionaire's seized assets

Brazil judge orders return of ex-billionaire's seized assets

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — A Rio de Janeiro judge has ordered the return of several luxury cars and other high-ticket items to Brazil's one-time richest man, Eike Batista, who is fighting insider trading and other charges stemming from the demise of his industrial empire.

In a 29-page decision, magistrate Vitor Barbosa Valpuesta also ordered the return of property seized from Batista's wife and ex-wife, as well as his two sons.

The seized items include a Lamborghini, which was once parked inside the living room of Batista's Rio mansion and served as a symbol of the magnate's meteoric rise. Photos of the white sports car being towed away by judicial officials earlier this year became a symbol of his equally spectacular fall.

Judge Valpuesta left in place the seizure of more than $50 million in cash, saying that amount would be enough to cover any damages or fines if Batista were convicted. The former billionaire faces insider trading and market manipulation charges resulting from the crumbling of his oil, mining, logistical and ship-building empire last year.

Tuesday's order was the latest turn in Batista's roller coaster legal saga.

At the trial's first and only session late last year, Judge Flavio Roberto de Souza touted the case against Batista as a major blow against impunity in a country where the rich and powerful are rarely held accountable.

But Souza himself was dismissed from the case after he was photographed driving a Porsche Cayenne he had ordered seized from Batista. It later emerged that a grand piano seized from the magnate was in the apartment of one of Souza's neighbors.

The Folha de S.Paulo newspaper quoted Batista's lawyer, Ary Bergher, calling Valpuesta's decision to return the seized property a "victory."

At the height of his fortune, Batista's wealth was estimated at $30 billion and in 2012 he reached No. 7 on the Forbes' billionaires list. He then boasted of his ambition of dethroning Mexico's Carlos Slim to become the world's richest person, but now he says he's $1 billion in debt.


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