NEW YORK — If Brazil's former richest man is hiding out from the law in Trump Tower, he's doing a very good job. Eike Batista was completely AWOL from the luxury apartment the Brazilian press reported him as being holed up in while an indictment awaits him back home when BuzzFeed News visited.
A warrant for Batista's arrest was issued on Thursday for his role in an investigation tangential to the Operation: Car Wash scandal that has completely engulfed Brazil for the past year and a half. Specifically, the man who was once named the wealthiest in the South American nation is accused of paying "$16.5 million in bribes to the former governor of Rio de Janeiro state, Sérgio Cabral" between 2007 and 2014, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Batista, who lost his fortune in 2013 when his business empire collapsed, was reported to have bought a plane ticket to New York on Tuesday. It's unclear whether he actually boarded the flight. But Brazilian newspaper O Dia on Thursday reported that Batista was not in his Brooklyn residence when police attempted to serve the warrant at 6 AM. Instead, the paper said, he was laying low under the noses of dozens of NYPD officers and Secret Service agents — inside Trump Tower.
The apartment that O Dia identified as Batista's hideout belongs to his lawyer, Sergio Bermudes, who lives on the fifty-fourth floor of Trump's Central Park adjacent property.
Upon reaching Trump Tower's residential side, BuzzFeed News overheard the front desk attempting to reach Bermudes on behalf of a two-person film crew from Brazil's RecordTV. While the crew was sent to have security examine their film equipment around the corner, the Tower employee manning the desk asked a porter to go to Bermudes' apartment and check to see if he was there.
A surprisingly short elevator ride later, the porter rang the bell to the apartment. There was no answer. On the ride back down, BuzzFeed News showed him a picture of Batista; the porter hadn't seen him. Nor had the doorman when asked while waiting outside.
A return from a quick trip to the nearby Apple Store found the Brazilian film crew nowhere to be seen. The doorman volunteered that they had already gone upstairs in the meantime. The front desk waved BuzzFeed News up as well.
The apartment was entirely devoid of anyone, save now for three journalists. Batista was nowhere to be seen; there were no spare bags out in the guest bedroom and the entire living space looked spotless, suggesting a cleaning crew had already been through that day. Without searching closets or anything so intrusive, the only evidence that more than one person had been occupying the space was two pairs of cups, sitting in the drying rack. If Batista was really camping out in the apartment to avoid the police, he was either amazing or terrible at it.
Unable to find a fugitive ex-billionaire, the apartment was again vacated. But how did the Brazilians get into the apartment in the first place? Carolina, the on-air talent half of the RecordTV crew, laughed when asked and struck a pose. "Because I'm a woman," she said, with a knowing wink. (In actuality, she then told BuzzFeed News, they'd gained access via their producer in Rio de Janeiro, who'd phoned ahead.)
On the ride back down, two more porters shared the elevator. Neither had seen Batista. But when asked what the building was like now that President Donald Trump was living in the White House, one laughed.
"Much quieter," he said, now that the film crews that had been swarming the building had been dispersed. "It's nice."