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UPDATE 2-Brazilian meatpacker BRF admits to bribing inspectors with money, benefits

Ana Mano

benefits@ (Adds details from news conference, leniency negotiations, ministry's statement)

SAO PAULO, Oct 1 (Reuters) - Brazilian meatpacker BRF SA has admitted to bribing food inspectors with bank deposits and health benefits and is cooperating with investigators in the latest phase of a corruption probe, federal police said on Tuesday.

Police said the fourth phase of the so-called Weak Flesh investigation involved evidence from the company of some 19 million reais ($4.56 million) in bribes paid up until 2017, when BRF overhauled its management.

BRF did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

People involved in the scheme are no longer working at the meatpacker, which is not itself under investigation in the two-year-old probe, police said.

Investigators are still negotiating a formal leniency agreement with BRF in return for its continued cooperation, according to a person familiar with the matter, who requested anonymity.

BRF shares fell nearly 2% in opening trade before trimming losses to 1% after a news conference by police.

When the scandal first broke in 2017 it led to the temporary closure of export markets and 12 BRF plants are still banned from selling meat products to the European Union.

Thirty-nine of the 60 inspectors targeted in the investigation remained on active duty, police said.

The inspectors answer to the Agriculture Ministry, which said it overhauled its food inspections.

The ministry reiterated "trust" in the 2,500 food inspectors who remain in service, saying bribery accusations against some of the inspectors working for the ministry "were an exception to the rule."

BRF began cooperating with investigators in the second half of last year, prosecutors said in a court document.

($1 = 4.1695 reais) (Reporting by Ana Mano; Editing by David Gregorio and Grant McCool)