The election of scandal-hit Wesley and Joesley Batista to the board of Brazilian meat giant JBS has been criticised by advocacy group Ban the Batistas.

The pair, who previously held high-level leadership positions at the company founded by their father José Batista Sobrinho, were voted onto the board at JBS’ annual meeting on Friday (26 April).

Information on the JBS investor relations website, seen by Just Food, reveals both brothers received more than 1.2 billion votes in favour of them regaining board positions. Nearly 250 million votes were cast in favour of rejecting the move while nearly 500 million abstained.

The Batista brothers’ holding company J&F Investimentos is understood to control nearly 1.08 billion JBS shares, a situation that led the Ban the Batistas group to comment after the votes were counted that “the game is rigged”.

That advocacy group protested outside the New York Stock Exchange on Friday. It is protesting against JBS’s attempt to get a US stock exchange listing and what it describes as “an unchecked power grab by its majority shareholders, brothers Joesley and Wesley Batista”.

Earlier this year, the brothers were elected to the Pilgrim’s Pride board. JBS holds a majority stake in the US-based meatpacker.

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Joesley, previously the JBS chairman, and Wesley, its former CEO, are controversial figures.

Back in 2017, prosecutors charged them with using inside information to profit from market movements in the company’s shares. Both stepped down from their executive roles but they were acquitted of insider trading charges in 2023.

However, as part of the long-running anti-corruption investigation Operation Car Wash, they described to prosecutors a network of bribes encompassing more than 1,800 politicians.

In a statement after the votes were counted on Friday, Ban the Batistas executive director Kimberly Spell said: “The shareholder vote to reinstate the Batista brothers to JBS’ board proves what we have known all along: the game is rigged.”

She added: “A majority of shares not cast by the Batistas either rejected or did not support their election. When even their own shareholders tell them to stay away, that is a powerful indictment of the brothers. It’s now the SEC’s turn to reject the Batistas and say no to their IPO.”

JBS revealed in July last year that it is seeking a stock-market listing in New York, giving it dual access to investor funds in Brazil and the US.

The world’s largest meatpacker completed an IPO in São Paulo in 2007 and has been linked with a US listing since at least 2016.

However, it had culled the plans in 2017 amid the corruption scandal.

Just Food invited JBS to comment on the Batista brothers’ appointment to its board.

In a statement it said: “JBS’ General Assembly has approved by large majority to increase the number of board directors from nine to 11 with 83% of voters electing Wesley and Joesley Batista. The majority of independent directors remains at seven to four. Both directors have over 35 years’ experience in the food sector and have contributed to make JBS one of the largest food companies in the world and the employer of 270,000 people globally. Their presence will enrich strategic board discussions benefiting all shareholders and other stakeholders.”