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Once Brazil's Richest Man, Eike Batista Sought for Graft

Brazil's former billionaire Eike Batista, seen in this Nov. 2014 photo, is being sought for allegedly paying bribes to former Rio de Janeiro state Gov. Sergio Cabral, apparently to gain an advantage in government contracts.

Brazilian police issued an arrest warrant Thursday for a businessman famous for amassing and then losing a multi-billion-dollar fortune, the latest person caught up in a wide-ranging corruption probe roiling Latin America's largest nation.

Federal police asked Interpol for help locating Eike Batista, whose lawyer says he is in New York. Attorney Fernando Martins told the G1 news portal that Batista would return as quickly as possible to surrender to police.

Batista is being sought for allegedly paying bribes to former Rio de Janeiro state Gov. Sergio Cabral, apparently to gain an advantage in government contracts.

The warrant for Batista was one of nine issued Thursday in connection with an investigation into the laundering and hiding of about $100 million in foreign bank accounts. The vast majority of that money, nearly $80 million, belonged to Cabral, said prosecutor Leonardo Freitas. He held out the possibility that the conspiracy could be even larger.

"The wealth of the members of the criminal organization led by Mr. Sergio Cabral is an ocean not yet completely mapped," he told a news conference.

Cabral is facing several corruption charges and was jailed last year.

Batista was surprised to have been named in the probe and wanted to return to Brazil to respond to the charges, G1 quoted Martins as saying. Martins said he was discussing Batista's return with police, but that it wasn't yet clear if his client would return Thursday.

Tacio Muzzi, an inspector with the federal police, told a news conference that if Batista doesn't turn himself in soon, he will be considered a fugitive from justice. He did not give a specific deadline. He added that Batista appears to have used his German passport to leave Brazil.

Police learned overnight that Batista might be out of the country, Muzzi said, but decided to go ahead with attempting to execute the warrant. Globo Television showed images of officers at Batista's home in Rio de Janeiro early Thursday.

Prosecutor Eduardo El Hage told reporters that Batista paid $16.5 million to Cabral in foreign bank accounts. Officials said Thursday that they were still investigating what the money was for.

The inquiry is among many that make up Brazil's so-called Car Wash probe, a sprawling investigation into the cozy relationship between politicians and businessmen, including the payment of billions of dollars in bribes. The focus of the probe is on allegedly inflated contracts with state oil giant Petrobras and other state-run companies that yielded billions of dollars for bribes and election campaigns. It has spawned hundreds of cases and caught up some of the country's top businessmen and top politicians.

Batista, who was once Brazil's richest man, has already experienced a fall from grace.

In 2011, he was listed by Forbes magazine as the world's eighth-richest person and had boasted he would take the top spot away from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim. By 2013, his fortune had crumbled amid debts in his various energy sector companies. At one point, he was $1 billion in debt.

Batista's riches-to-rags story was widely seen as a symbol of Brazil's own economic troubles. After years of surging growth, the Brazilian economy is now in a protracted recession.