(Recasts to add details, share performance throughout)
By Guillermo Parra-Bernal and Ana Mano
SAO PAULO, Sept 1 (Reuters) - JBS SA on Friday had to suspend a shareholder meeting to decide the fate of Chief Executive Officer Wesley Batista after his family, which controls the world’s No. 1 meatpacker, won a legal injunction that may draw out a dispute with other shareholders.
According to a securities filing, a federal judge ordered a 15-day suspension of the meeting and decided that disagreements between the Batista family and minority shareholders should be settled by the São Paulo Stock Exchange’s arbitrage council.
The Batistas won the injunction a day after the investment arm of state development bank BNDES had blocked the family from casting ballots in the assembly. BNDES Participações, known as BNDESPar, called the assembly in July, seeking to push Batista out through a lawsuit with the backing of other shareholders.
A May plea-bargain deal exposing a bribery ring run by Batista and his younger brother Joesley led BNDESPar to seek his removal from JBS, blaming the scandal for a 23 percent plunge in the company’s stock price this year.
Reuters reported on Aug. 25 that Wesley Batista, 47, told investors in recent weeks that his departure could delay a downsizing of JBS and the public listing of a U.S. subsidiary. The Batista brothers, who transformed JBS into the world’s largest meatpacker over the past decade, have a 42 percent stake, twice as big as BNDESPar‘s.
While Batista’s advisers have yet to devise a formal strategy after winning the injunction, there is the “willingness from the family’s side to sit down and negotiate a solution,” a person with direct knowledge of the family’s thinking said.
The family’s holding company said it was open to dialogue in a public statement “lamenting that the BNDES has taken a legal path in detriment to dialogue.” Representatives for Rio de Janeiro-based BNDESPar declined to comment on the ruling.
Shares reversed early losses on Friday, as the decision opened the possibility that both parties would negotiate a quick resolution. Still, arbitration conflicts tend to drag for long in Brazil, where legal maneuvering often aggravates disputes.
The stock rose 0.4 percent to 8.70 reais in midday Friday trading, extending gains over the past month to 13 percent. (Reporting by Ana Mano and Guillermo Parra-Bernal; Editing by W Simon)