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SAO PAULO (Reuters) - JBS SA's biggest Brazilian creditors are close to refinancing about 18 billion reais ($5.5 billion) worth of loans due within a year, as the world's No. 1 meatpacker seeks to stem fallout from a corruption scandal involving its controlling family, five people with knowledge of the matter said.
Caixa Econômica Federal SA, Banco Santander Brasil SA, Banco do Brasil SA and Banco Bradesco SA are urging larger rival Itaú Unibanco Holding SA to join the plan, under which JBS would get a 12-month repayment extension in exchange for a 2 billion-real upfront payment and extra collateral, two of the people said.
In principle, banks would not adjust the borrowing cost of those loans because the risk of JBS failing to honor them remains very small, according to one of the people, who asked for anonymity because the plan remains private. Bloomberg News reported on July 12 that a definitive accord had been struck.
São Paulo-based JBS said in a statement that the company "remains engaged in a long-term relation with financial institutions, with which it has so far maintained productive and constructive talks." The banks declined to comment.
A refinancing deal is key to stem concerns of a potential liquidity strain at JBS, whose borrowing costs surged in the wake of the Batista family's decision to enter plea and leniency deals related to their involvement in a bribery and graft ring.
Shares (JBSS3.SA) of the São Paulo-based meatpacker and food processor have tanked 18 percent since brothers Wesley and Joesley Batista agreed to a plea deal in mid-May. The company's 7.75 percent bond due in Oct. 2020 46611DAA3= shed up to 20 percent in the same period, sending yields on the security to an all-time high.
Chief Executive Officer Wesley Batista, the elder of the two brothers who control JBS, is personally negotiating the debt refinancing deal and asset sales to raise cash, the people said. JBS's private-sector banks remain skittish about their state peers' push to remove Batista, two of the people said.
Itaú fretted about refinancing loans to JBS in early talks, demanding immediate repayment of a 1 billion-real credit facility due within weeks, the people said. Itaú is not participating in any of JBS's planned asset divestitures, one of the people said.
Removing Batista has become common ground between government lenders BNDES and Caixa Econômica Federal, Reuters reported on June 22. BNDES owns 22 percent of JBS through investment arm BNDES Participações SA.
Caixa, Brazil's largest mortgage lender, is JBS's largest creditor.
The refinancing underscores the challenge facing the Batista brothers, who over a decade transformed JBS from a mid-sized slaughterhouse in Brazil's Midwestern plains into a global behemoth that operates in four continents, with the help of political relations and low-cost government loans.
In May, the brothers admitted to bribing 1,893 politicians to facilitate the growth of JBS through BNDES loans. In a plea deal with prosecutors, both implicated President Michel Temer, unleashing a political crisis that threatens to derail the passage of key spending-cutting bills.
JPMorgan Securities analyst Natalia Corfield estimates that JBS's total bank debt reached 24.3 billion reais at the end of March, of which about 17.5 billion reais would mature within the next 12 months. The company's total debt, including bond obligations, was almost 59 billion reais.
($1 = 3.2959 Brazilian reais)
Editing by Chizu Nomiyama