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If you told Brazilians a few years back that their richest man would wind up in prison, few would have believed you. Yet that's exactly what happened this week to former commodities tycoon Eike Batista. NPR's Philip Reeves says Batista's case is unleashing strong emotions along with some humor.
PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Eike Batista has achieved many things. He's owned a private jet and raced powerboats. He's been Brazil's most celebrated entrepreneur, and with his ex-wife, a former Playboy model, a society page favorite. One thing he hasn't achieved, though, is a university degree. And now his lack of education is an issue. This week Batista he still was imprisoned on suspicion of bribery and money laundering. Brazilians began flooding cyberspace with satirical memes and tweets especially when the authorities shaved off Batista's famously expensive hair implants as if he was a common prisoner.
Brazil's WAGs are having fun. One tabloid paper spoofed a celebrity magazine describing Batista's prison cell as if it's one of his mansions and waxing lyrical about its industrial design and ecological bathrooms. Batista's prison conditions are a particular talking point. Brazil has an unusual law. If you don't have a college degree and are awaiting trial, you're liable to be locked away in the mainstream prison system amid acute overcrowding, gangs and disease. If you're a graduate, you get to go to special prison which has books and proper bunks and cooling fans. Batista, remember, does not have a degree.
For a while, people thought the former billionaire might just wind up in a hell hole. So far that hasn't happened. The authorities have agreed to hold him in privileged special prison conditions, at least for now. That decision, taken for security reasons, is controversial, but Brazilians are witnessing the biggest corruption scandal in their history and this hasn't dampened the glee they're taking as another high roller is called to account. The day has finally come, said one tweeter on Monday when Battista was locked up, today my lunch was better than Eike Batista's. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.