Bloomberg Línea — Jorge Paulo Lemann, Marcel Telles, and Carlos Alberto Sicupira have broken their silence and spoken for the first time since the disclosure of a 20-billion-reais ($3.8 billion) accounting shortfall at Brazilian retail giant Americanas (AMER3) on January 11.
In a public statement released on Sunday, the trio of investors who controlled Americanas for four decades and remain the main shareholders denied having knowledge of the practices that led the company to file for bankruptcy and restructuring on Thursday, amid the company’s legal battles with its creditors.
“We were never aware and would never admit any maneuvers or concealments in the company,” Lemann, Telles, and Sicupira wrote in the signed statement.
In the bankruptcy filing, Americanas acknowledges debts estimated at 43 billion reais ($8.2 billion), with 16,300 creditors, in one of the largest corporate scandals in the history of Brazil.
The disclosure of the case, and the assessment by former CEO Sergio Rial and other specialists that the practice – which consisted of not accounting for supplier loans that banks assumed as debt – had been ongoing for some years, raised suspicions in the market that the trio had some knowledge of the issue.
Over the past decades, Lemann, Telles, and Sicupira have built a reputation as some of the most skilled entrepreneurs in the business world, building the empire of the largest beer group in the world, AB InBev (BUD), as well as taking control of global giants such as Kraft (KHC) and Burger King (QSR).
In their statement, the company’s main shareholders said:
“On January 11, 2023, in a statement to the market, Americanas SA made public the existence of significant inconsistencies in its accounting. Since then, always with transparency and speed, several efforts have been made to correctly address the challenges that the company now faces.
We use this same transparency to categorically and truthfully clarify that:
We were never aware [of] any maneuvers or concealments in the company. Our performance has always been guided, over decades, by ethical and legal compliance. This was crucial for the position we have reached in a lifetime dedicated to entrepreneurship, generating jobs, building businesses and contributing to the development of the country.
2) Americanas is a centennial company and over the last 20 years it has been managed by executives deemed qualified and with unblemished reputations.
3) We had one of the largest and most respected independent auditing firms in the world, PwC. In its remit, PwC made regular use of so-called circularization letters, used to confirm Americanas’ accounting information with external sources, including the banks that maintained operations with the company. Neither these financial institutions nor PwC ever reported any irregularity.
4) Therefore, just like all the other shareholders, creditors, clients and employees of the company, we firmly believed that everything was absolutely correct.
5) The company’s independent committee will have all the conditions to investigate the facts that led to the accounting inconsistencies, as well as to evaluate any asymmetry in the dialogue between the auditors and the financial institutions.
6) Once again, we express our commitment to full transparency and total collaboration in everything within our reach to clarify all the facts and their circumstances.
7) We are deeply sorry for the losses suffered by investors and creditors, remembering that we, as shareholders, have also been affected by losses.
8) We reaffirm our commitment to work for the company’s recovery, as soon as possible, focused on ensuring a promising future for the company, its thousands of employees, partners, and investors, and on reaching a good understanding with the creditors.”
-- Jorge Paulo Lemann, Marcel Telle, and Carlos Alberto Sicupira.