The spectacular fall of Eike Batista

Just last year, Brazilian Eike Batista was one of the richest people on the planet. But no longer - the oil baron fell victim to his own megalomania.


Once valued at $34bn, Eike Batista is now $800m in the red

If Brazil's Eike Batista was a superstitious man, he might "track the start of his spectacular fall from grace to one night in March last year", says the Financial Times.

His eldest son, Thor, 20, appeared on the news in a blood-spattered T-shirt, having run over and killed a migrant worker while speeding in his father's Mercedes. "Though it had nothing to do with business, the horrific accident was a bad omen": soon after, one of the largest fortunes on the planet began evaporating.

A year ago, Batista was worth $34bn and boasting of soon being the world's richest man. "He seemed the perfect emblem for the new Brazil," says The Daily Beast. "Tough, frighteningly ambitious, politically savvy and willing to take outsized risks." What a fall.

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The oil baron, 57, has just notched up the largest corporate default in Latin American history following the bankruptcy of his oil firm, OGX Petroleo. He now reportedly has no more to his name than an $800m debt.

The upstart oil giant had enticed investors and borrowed big on hopes of finding an "underwater goldmine" in Brazil's offshore fields, says Forbes. Now an empire spanning logistics, shipping and entertainment is "sinking like a platform torpedoed on all four legs", taking investors with it.

Once the pin-up entrepreneur of the ruling Workers' Party, Batista boasted his "idiot-proof" companies could never fail. These days he is shunned as the personification of Brazil's economic hangover (see below).

Those who fell for the former powerboat racing champion's bravado have only themselves to blame, says the FT. There were abundant clues to a certain wildness and eccentricity.

The son of a German-born mother and a former Brazilian mining minister (who doubled as boss of mining group Vale), he read metallurgical engineering at Aachen before returning to prospect for gold in the Amazon.

Batista likens himself to a bandeirante the tough 16th-century adventurers who explored Brazil's interior and he recounts incidents involving guns. But he claims the venture made his first fortune.

Batista expanded his mining business into Chile, Canada and Russia (he says he was kicked out by the Mafia), realising $1bn when he sold out of his Canadian gold venture in 2000.

But his big break came when he formed OGX to exploit the promised riches of Brazil's offshore oil wells.The hype was so great that when the OGX floated in 2008, it was valued at around $20bn. It hadn't even started drilling.

Great wealth encouraged Batista's grandiose tendencies. There was uproar in 1998 when his ex-wife was photographed wearing a dog-collar emblazoned "Eike", and he named all his sons after Norse gods.

"I've been painted as a megalomaniac, as someone who is vain, proud," he wrote in his autobiography. "My response to these accusations is that none of these things is a defect or anything reproachable." He's got a bit more time to think about that now.

The salesman who believed his own pitch

When Bloomberg visited in 2008, it reported: "A typical 20 minutes in his company might involve him picking a colour scheme for his yacht's upholstery (pink and white), ordering an aide to sell $200m of shares, or getting a phone briefing on an upscale Chinese restaurant he owns in Rio."

Batista's star has now fallen so low that he can't even find a buyer for his $19m yacht, which is going for scrap, says Vincent Bevins in the Los Angeles Times. He's been hung out to dry by Dilma Rousseff's government.

While the implosion of his empire is a PR catastrophe for Brazil, there has been no attempt at rescue. Doubtless the government is embarrassed that it fell for Batista's blarney, which included putting an X in the title of every company he owned to signify its inevitable multiplication of wealth, says Wyre Davies on

Yet his downfall leaves a big hole. He was "one of the biggest backers of Rio's regeneration ahead of the 2016 Olympics".

The "self-appointed salesman of Brazil" made the mistake of believing his own pitch, says Joe Leahy in the FT. Many reckon he'll bounce back, but his fall puts the governing Workers' Party in a dilemma.

"Batista's loud form of capitalism served for a while to disguise the government's statism." Without the fig leaf he provided, Brasilia must now decide: "can markets... be trusted, or will letting investors have their way... lead to more Batistas?"

Still, there's a silver lining to everything. At a conference last year, Batista presented his son Thor, a bodybuilder, as his successor. "He knows his most important task is to preserve what was created, so he has to carry some heavy sh*t in the future," he said. It seems Thor's task is getting lighter every day.