The trial of disgraced Brazilian ex-billionaire Eike Batista took a turn for the surreal on Tuesday when the Rio tabloid Extra published a photograph of the judge driving a Porsche that was among the luxury goods seized from Mr. Batista after his bankruptcy.
The incident, now being investigated by the federal court where judge Flavio Roberto de Souza sits, seems set to confirm the worst opinions of the many critics of the Brazilian judiciary, in which judges have enormous latitude.
Mr. Batista's lawyers had already filed a motion to have Judge de Souza dismissed on the grounds of bias. They submitted as evidence 11 different interviews given by the judge, in which he called Mr. Batista, among other things "a megalomaniac," criticized the fact that he was still living a "ostentatious" life despite being bankrupt, and said it was a "historic moment" to see a person of international stature in the defendant's seat.
This trial is still in its early stages. On Feb. 22, the judge told Extra, "Eike had insider information that he used to obtain profits. He is like the woman who cheats, and the shareholders are like her husband: By the time they found out it was too late."
Mr. Batista faces charges of insider trading and market manipulation, and could be the first person to go to jail for financial crimes in Brazil. The charges relate to the collapse of his so-called "X Empire," which included the petrochemical company OGX, the mining firm MMX and the shipbuilding and logistics company OSX, which failed in succession over 2013-14.
While just three years ago he was the seventh wealthiest person in the world, according to Forbes, he is now said to be about $1-billion (U.S.) in debt.
Over the past few weeks, police have been seizing the trappings of his former wealth, including a yacht, watches and a fleet of luxury cars.
After Mr. Batista's lawyer alleged that the white Porsche Cayenne in question had been spotted in the garage of Judge de Souza's apartment building, the judge told the magazine Veja that he had taken the two most valuable cars seized from Mr. Batista home for safe-keeping, with the full knowledge of police, because there wasn't room in the police parking lot for the whole fleet of vehicles.
Mr. Batista's lawyer, Sergio Bermudes, countered that he was using the vehicles, and urged reporters to stake out the garage, which they did Tuesday. When Extra called the judge to ask what he was doing apparently commuting to work in the Porsche, he claimed the line was bad, and then that he was in a meeting and refused to take further calls.
Judge de Souza last month ordered the seizure of all of Mr. Batista's financial assets in Brazil, as well as real estate worth as much as $542-million (U.S.), belonging to the former tycoon, his sons Thor and Olin, former wife and carnival queen Luma de Oliveira and lawyer Flavia Sampaio, the mother of his third son.
All of Mr. Batista's vehicles were slated to be auctioned on Feb. 26 – an event now cancelled – with proceeds to be used to compensate shareholders for their losses, estimated at about $5-billion. But the lawyer, Mr. Bermudes, points out that the Porsche did not appear on the auction list.
"The situation is tragic," he told reporters. "It's not just illegal – it's indecent."
Even before these issues arose with the judge, Mr. Batista's trial was expected to take several years.