Once the richest man in Brazil, Eike Batista is claimed to have resorted to one of the oldest superstitious rituals in the world in the hope of rebuilding his billion-pound empire, throwing money into the biggest wishing well he could find – the South Atlantic Ocean.
The flamboyant businessman, who suffered one of the largest personal and financial collapses in corporate history, tossed over 700,000 Brazilian reais (£130,000) in gold coins into the waves off the coast off Rio de Janeiro’s Ipanema beach last month after a Brazilian-African religious leader told him he needed to appease a water-bound deity, Yemanja, known as Queen of the Sea, for his past “ungrateful” actions.
“He came to me for help and I told him that everything he had taken from the sea has to be returned in some way and this could be done by a ritualistic gesture showing gratitude,” said Ubirajara Pinheiro, a mystic and a priest of the Umbanda religion – a syncretic polytheistic belief that draws on African spiritual traditions mixed with elements of Roman Catholicism. “You cannot remove ore from the earth without thanking and giving back,” warned Mr Pinheiro, who has been a practising mystic for more than 30 years.
In 2013, Mr Batista lost 99 per cent of his estimated net wealth of £25bn when his six-company commodities empire, which included offshore gas and oil exploration, and gold and iron ore mining, went bust, defaulting on the largest corporate debt in the history of Latin America. But Mr Batista, who admits to being highly superstitious and using psychics in the past to guide his businesses, believes he will make a comeback.
Chartering a yacht, he is said to have gone to sea to perform a ceremony that involved placing the gold coins in a small vessel with flowers, perfume, champagne and a statue of Yemanja. The little boat was then pushed off as Mr Pinheiro led prayers, meditation and chanting.
Asked if this is an expensive way to make amends, Mr Pinheiro, who is based in Rio, said: “It is not about the quantity, it is a matter of faith. Many years ago when [Eike] visited my house I warned him what would happen.”
But Mr Batista’s gesture comes at a difficult time as Brazil plunges into its worst recession in over two decades. Unemployment is rising, consumer confidence is down, and in the past year the Brazilian real has lost 24 per cent of its value against the dollar. In 2011, the country overtook the UK as the world’s sixth-largest economy, with huge oil reserves and massive foreign investment. But the bubble burst in late 2014, exacerbated by the state-controlled oil firm Petrobras’s money-laundering and corruption scandal.
Analysts predict Brazil’s economy will contract by 3.33 per cent this year. In February, Moody’s Investors Service followed two other major credit rating agencies and downgraded Brazil’s sovereign debt to junk territory. But Mr Batista remains optimistic.
In an interview with Brazilian network RedeTV! in June 2015, Mr Batista revealed he is rebuilding his company and had “zeroed his debts”. He declined to comment when approached by The Independent.