Former Americanas CEO Gutierrez free in Spain in Brazil fraud case

By Rodrigo Viga Gaier

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - The former CEO of retail giant Americanas, wanted in Brazil in connection with a $4.5 billion alleged accounting fraud, was free in Madrid, his lawyers said on Saturday, one day after his arrest by Spanish police.

Miguel Gutierrez was included in Interpol's wanted list after a Rio de Janeiro court issued an arrest warrant against him and Brazilian police are seeking his extradition from Spain.

Gutierrez, who led Americanas for more than two decades until December 2022, is being investigated in Brazil as part of a probe into a 25.3 billion-real ($4.5 billion) alleged accounting fraud that led the firm to file for bankruptcy in January 2023.

Gutierrez's legal defense team said in a statement he is at his residence in Madrid at an address known to the Spanish and Brazilian authorities and where "he has always been available to the various bodies interested in ongoing investigations." Spanish police said its organized crime unit had arrested Gutierrez, wanted by Brazil through Interpol, for the crime of "aggravated fraud".

His lawyers said he had never participated or known about any fraud during his time running the retailer and will be able to defend himself against the "allegations arising from false statements regarding him."

Brazilian federal police sources told Reuters they have started extradition proceedings for Gutierrez, though one official familiar with the matter said extradition could be difficult because Gutierrez has dual Brazilian and Spanish citizenship.

Americanas, one of Brazil's largest online and brick-and-mortar retailers, has long been controlled by three Brazilian billionaires who founded 3G Capital - Jorge Paulo Lemann, Marcel Telles and Carlos Alberto Sicupira.

The company last year had accused Gutierrez and half a dozen other former employees of taking part in a fraud scheme.

The judge in Rio de Janeiro who ordered his arrest, as well as the search and seizure of evidence in the homes of 14 former Americanas executives, said in a warrant seen by Reuters that police had provided convincing proof of insider trading and market manipulation.

The executives under investigation fraudulently altered the company's results to increase its share price, the judge wrote, citing the police probe.

The judge added that when the revelation of alleged fraud became imminent, Gutierrez sold shares worth 171.7 million reais before the stock price plummeted.

Federal police investigators have called it "the biggest fraud in the history of Brazil's financial market."

(Reporting by Rodrigo Viga, writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)