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Investigators focus on Miami investor in possible bid-rigging for 2016 Brazil Olympics

Emily L. Mahoney and Malu Gaspar, Miami Herald on

Published in Olympics

Branded a place to "escape the frenzy of South Beach," the upscale Italian restaurant is marked only by a small sign on the valet cart and is far removed from the sidewalk, behind a small gate, kept closed. The patio is encircled by high shrubbery that only lets the candlelight shine through, for a private, exclusive atmosphere.

A manager at Casa Tua confirmed that he was a "familiar face" who drops in "sometimes."

According to Florida business records and reporting by Folha de Sao Paulo, one of his earliest Florida businesses was a bayfront Brazilian steakhouse called Porcao, a local favorite inside the Four Ambassadors until it closed. The Miami location was modeled after Soares' first Porcao steakhouses in Brazil, including a Rio location that was a prime spot for the politically connected.

Robert Garcia, a longtime employee and manager in the Four Ambassadors' leasing office, remembers other owners, remembers managers, remembers the servers, but not Soares.

"I've been around here for many years and I've never met him," he said.

Soares' initial business presence in Miami was minimal, with just a few Florida companies to his name in the mid-1990s. Today, he is tied to 28 companies in Florida, according to Division of Corporations records -- some with names nearly identical to companies he owned in Rio.

Ana Paula Santiago, a business associate who is also from Rio, said all of the businesses are investment companies.

"Some of them (invest) in real estate, some of them invest in health care, each one has a particular thing," she said, also confirming that all of Soares' active businesses are headquartered in the same office.

Santiago said she would forward an interview request to him. Nothing came of it.

Soares is listed as registered agent or manager on some -- but not all -- of the businesses connected with him. Shruti Shah, a forensic accountant and vice president of the anti-corruption nonprofit Transparency International USA, said that's legal but makes it difficult to get a comprehensive look at his companies.

"The problem is you can open companies without having to disclose who really beneficially owns these companies," she said.

Soares' holdings also extend to valuable Miami real estate, and show an affinity for expensive properties near the ocean.

In 2004, one of his companies bought a five-bedroom house on Key Biscayne for $1.5 million, and then sold it for $2.1 million six years later, according to Miami-Dade Property Appraiser records.

The man who now lives in the white, glass-paned house with his family said he never met Soares because the sale was handled completely through real estate agents.

In the following years, a company managed by one of Soares' businesses purchased a shopping center in Deerfield Beach for $5.8 million. Another of his companies then spent $2.2 million for a three-bedroom condo. That property was later transferred to a different company, also located at Soares' headquarters, according to Property Appraiser data.

An analysis of Soares' business activity in Brazil found he is tied to at least 44 companies there, with flurries of business name changes, old companies being dissolved and new ones being created.

For example, just weeks before Operation Car Wash began in March 2014, Soares sold a 95 percent stake in his biggest business group to a company called Rise International. Rise immediately renamed the group and changed its own address to a location in the Bahamas, according to a Brazilian corporation registry document.

That same pattern holds true for his businesses in Miami: In 2014, three of his companies were rendered inactive. At the same time, four new companies appeared under his name, according to business records.

Shah said this behavior makes it difficult to track Soares' wealth.

For now, investigators in Brazil and France are reportedly sharing documents and information, trying to chip away at a case against this mysterious man who knows how to stay under the radar on two continents.

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(Kevin Hall of the McClatchy Washington Bureau contributed to this report. Malu Gaspar reported from Rio de Janeiro. Emily L. Mahoney reported from Miami.)

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(This report is collaboration between the Miami Herald and the Brazilian magazine Piaui.)

(c)2017 Miami Herald

Visit Miami Herald at www.miamiherald.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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