UPDATE 1-BTG Pactual founder Esteves returns to center stage amid speculation on role

(Changes date when Esteves is speaking in first paragraph; provides reason in 4th graph)

By Carolina Mandl

SAO PAULO, Feb 18 (Reuters) – Banco BTG Pactual SA founder Andre Esteves will be the marquee speaker at a wide-ranging event on Wednesday sponsored by the Brazilian investment bank, marking a return to the limelight for one of the country’s best-known bankers.

Esteves, also the bank’s biggest shareholder, will discuss Brazil’s economic and political outlook before an audience of roughly 3,000 businessmen, investors and clients.

It will be his most prominent public appearance since Esteves exonerated after his arrest in Brazil’s epic “Car Wash” corruption probe, and he is expected to cast a fresh spotlight on his role at the bank, where he remains influential.

Esteves had originally been scheduled to speak on Tuesday but switched to Wednesday because Brazil’s privatization secretary Salim Mattar needed to switch his slot because of a timing conflict, a BTG spokeswoman said.

Esteves, who was jailed for about 20 days nearly five years ago, has played an active role in the bank’s strategy since April 2016 with a designation of “senior partner.”

On Friday, BTG Chief Executive Roberto Sallouti told reporters there were no discussions underway about Esteves returning to the bank’s management or board of directors and that BTG was working well.

But he added that it was up to Esteves, once the bank’s main public face, to decide whether to formally rejoin BTG’s staff.

While under investigation, the bank was forced to cut jobs and shed assets amid heavy client withdrawals. BTG has since rebounded, posting earnings of 3.833 billion reais last year, up nearly 40%.

Esteves’ public appearance comes after Brazil’s central bank in December approved the restoration of his majority stake in BTG’s controlling group. Finalizing the move still requires authorization from regulators outside Brazil.

Last year Brazil’s federal police raided the bank’s Sao Paulo headquarters twice. In August, they conducted searches related to its 2013 purchase of stakes in some African oilfields from state oil producer Petroleo Brasileiro SA. In October, BTG and former central bank and finance ministry officials were investigated over the alleged illegal leaking of interest rate decisions.

BTG has denied any wrongdoing related to the so-called PetroAfrica deal and has said the interest rate leak allegations are false.

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