Home » In Brazil, Americanas stores at the heart of a financial scandal

In Brazil, Americanas stores at the heart of a financial scandal

by drbyos

To Rio de Janeiro, the 29th of January 2023. MAURO PIMENTEL / AFP

Clothing, sweets and electronics: in Brazil, few brands offer as many cheap products as the Americanas stores, whose red and white logo is part of the urban decor. Founded in 1929 by five American immigrants in Rio de Janeiro, following the model of popular supermarkets in the United States, the stores quickly spread across the country. Today, the company, which has become the fifth largest distribution group in Brazil, has more than 1,700 in 900 cities and employs 44,000 people.

But now, since January, this success has been tarnished by a huge financial scandal. On the 11th of that month, nine days after taking the reins of the company, the CEO, Sergio Rial, reveals to have identified “accounting inconsistencies” up to 20 billion reais (3.8 billion euros). After correction, the group’s debt doubled, reaching 42.5 billion reais: an amount impossible to repay. In the aftermath, Mr. Rial resigns, and Americanas is placed in receivership.

Five months later, the company realizes the facts. On June 13, she admits, in a press release, to have been the subject of a vast operation of « fraud » by the administration of Miguel Gutierrez, who led it between 2001 and 2022, before the arrival of Mr. Rial. According to Americanas, it inflated profits by means of false advertising contracts with suppliers or the omission of loans in financial reports. All to multiply bonuses and dividends while the company collapsed.

Extreme cost reduction

The scandal, one of the most serious in the history of Brazil, leaves the business community perplexed. « This is a huge surprise and a great disappointment for Brazilian companiesexplains Pedro Wongtschowski, president of the higher council for innovation and competitiveness of the Federation of Industries of the State of Sao Paulo. Not only because of the scale of the problem, but also because it is a company whose shareholders were highly respected. »

Nicknamed “the gods of Brazilian capitalism”, billionaires Jorge Paulo Lemann, Alberto Sicupira and Marcel Telles, who own 31% of the company, are among the five richest in Brazil. Alongside the Americanas group, they have an investment fund, 3G Capital, which invests in popular multinationals, such as the ketchup manufacturer Kraft Heinz, the Belgian beer company AB InBev or the king of fast food, Restaurant Brands International, owner of Burger King.

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