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SAO PAULO, March 5 (Reuters) - Brazilian federal police said on Monday they arrested the former chief executive of food processor BRF SA on charges that he and other executives were aware that the company committed fraud in trying to evade food safety checks.
Shares in BRF, the country's largest chicken exporter, whose board and management are already under fire after the company posted its worst-ever annual results, plunged 15 percent.
The company did not reply to emails and calls seeking comment.
The charges open a new chapter in the federal police investigation of the Brazilian meat industry - dubbed "Weak Flesh" - which started in March 2017, wreaking havoc on the sector and temporarily closing export markets to Brazil, the world's largest beef and chicken exporter.
In a statement, the police cited evidence that five laboratories accredited by the Agriculture Ministry colluded with the analysis department of BRF to "falsify" test results related to its industrial process.
Pedro Faria, BRF's chief executive between 2015 and 2017, was one of several people targeted in the new phase of the probe and had been taken into custody in Curitiba, Paraná, police said.
"The fraud had the intention to cheat inspection services so as to prevent the Agriculture Ministry from controlling the quality of the industrial process of the company under investigation," the police said.
Over the weekend, pension funds which are BRF's largest shareholders presented a list of 10 candidates for seats on the board in a bid to shake up the business. A BRF board meeting was scheduled to take place on Monday, but it is unclear whether it had occurred.
The police said on Monday they would serve 11 temporary arrest warrants and 53 search and seizure warrants.
The arrest and search warrants were carried out in the states of Paraná, Santa Catarina, Rio Grande do Sul, Goiás and São Paulo, police said.
($1 = 3.2523 reais) (Reporting by Pedro Fonseca, Ana Mano and Gabriela Mello; editing by Gareth Jones and Jason Neely and Christian Plumb)