* As many as 17 preliminary inquiries have been opened
* Watchdog CVM looking into disclosure of ‘Eike’s put’
* Minority shareholders coming together to challenge EBX
By Juliana Schincariol and Marcela Ayres
RIO DE JANEIRO/SAO PAULO, July 10 (Reuters) - Brazil’s Grupo EBX, the debt-laden energy and mining conglomerate controlled by billionaire Eike Batista, is the target of as many as 17 preliminary inquiries led by securities watchdog CVM, according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation.
The inquiries, most of them started in recent months, seek to determine whether companies controlled by EBX disclosed accurate operational and financial data in a timely manner to minority shareholders, said the source, who declined to be named because of the delicacy of the matter. The inquiries are not formal investigations, which would follow only if there is credible evidence of irregularities.
“The question is if they were disclosing information in accordance with the rules, if they were disclosing information that they shouldn’t have. That’s what is being examined,” the source said.
An EBX spokeswoman had no immediate comment on the matter. The CVM declined to comment.
One of the inquiries centers on OGX Petróleo e Gas Participações SA, EBX’s oil producer, the source said. The CVM is looking into OGX’s disclosure of a plan under which its board may urge Batista to pump as much as $1 billion into the company by April 2014, the source said.
The so-called “put option” - Batista would buy OGX shares well above current market prices - is seen as a way for OGX to avert a debt restructuring. OGX shares are down 88 percent this year due to frequent output target misses and worries over a potential debt default.
The inquiries come as worries mount about growing imbalances between the EBX group’s assets and liabilities, dwindling cash and limited fundraising options. Challenging market conditions are making it difficult for Batista to persuade potential partners, the government or creditors to shore up his conglomerate and avert a break-up.
Minority shareholders are joining forces to press regulators to look into EBX, a group that in recent years symbolized Brazil’s rise to global prominence and now mirrors some of the nation’s woes. Investors complain that the government, as well as oil, energy and securities regulators, failed to assess whether rapid growth in EBX assets and debt was sustainable.
Minority shareholders last week formed a group called UnaX, which stands for EBX’s Minority Shareholders’ Union, to channel their demands to government agencies, credit rating agencies and other market entities. The group’s lawyer, Adriano Mezzomo, said minority shareholders are debating whether to request that authorities freeze Batista’s personal assets.
As Batista and his conglomerate fall from grace, both have come to represent the broader risks facing Brazil.
Latin America’s biggest economy attracted waves of foreign capital during a decade-long commodity boom, but investors and citizens have complained of poor management and wasteful spending during the bonanza as prices for raw materials retreat.
Worries about OGX and other EBX-controlled companies such as shipbuilder OSX Brasil SA helped trigger a rout in the benchmark Bovespa stock index, which is currently trading at a four-year low and is down more than 20 percent this year.