Pressure mounts to disband Brazil’s anti-corruption team
BRASILIA (Reuters) – Political pressure is mounting in Brazil to disband a high-profile team of anti-corruption prosecutors who have put dozens of former executives and politicians behind bars, despite strong popular support and hundreds of cases still dangling.
Attorney General Augusto Aras will decide on September 10 whether to renew for one year the tenure of the team, which has repeatedly made headlines over the past six years with its sprawling “Car Wash” corruption investigation.
Aras, who has not spoken of his intentions, declined to comment for this story.
But the country’s top prosecutor faces pressure from influential politicians to disband the task force, as skepticism grows over President Jair Bolsonaro’s commitment to a campaign pledge to fight corruption.
The 65-year-old former army captain took office early last year amid popular anger over corruption under former Left Workers’ Party governments, but has since denounced investigations into allegations of corruption involving members of his own family.
Senator Major Olimpio, Bolsonaro’s former right-hand man in Congress, said there was a broad political movement underway to stop the task force’s investigations and overturn ongoing trials.
“Today there is a campaign to demonize the car wash,” Olimpio said. The right-wing senator cited pressure from politicians under investigation to shut it down, opening a parliamentary inquiry that called his work into question and appealed to the Supreme Court to end its investigations.
Left-wing Senator Randolfe Rodrigues joined Olimpio in advocating for the retention of Car Wash.
“The conditions are right so that Aras does not prolong the work of the task force,” he said.
With a series of investigations opened in Brazil into allegations of corruption in the purchase of medical equipment to fight COVID-19, there are many signs that corruption is thriving despite years of prosecution.
Car Wash’s investigation shocked many Brazilians by revealing the widespread use of political bribes on major state contracts, especially within the huge state oil company, Petroleo Brasileiro SA (Petrobras).
A senior member of the task force, requesting anonymity, said there were still 400 ongoing investigations by federal prosecutors and police stemming from the car wash investigation. A second source, directly familiar with their investigations, confirmed the figure.
“You just can’t stop all the relevant work that is still in progress,” the task force member said.
Among the cases still open are investigations into contracts signed by Petrobras in the past with several multinational companies, as well as agreements reached by financial institutions and new investigations into the leasing of vessels, the first source said.
Investigations into money laundering through art galleries and politicians who are no longer in office and who have lost their legal prerogatives are still ongoing, the source said.
If the Car Wash team were disbanded and its 14 prosecutors dispersed, corruption investigations would likely revert to the days before Car Wash, when a single prosecutor would remain in Curitiba to handle ongoing investigations, the sources said.
CRITICAL BUT POPULAR
Operation Car Wash has drawn criticism from legal experts for what they say is excessive use of plea negotiations, as well as the temporary arrest of suspects and potential witnesses for information.
But more than six years after starting with an investigation into a Brasilia gas station that had a car wash, the task force led by 40-year-old lawyer Deltan Dallagnol still enjoys the support of most Brazilians. .
A recent poll carried out by the Instituto Paraná Pesquisas revealed that 78% of those questioned are in favor of the continuation of its work by the working group.
But the political climate in Congress has changed. To avoid the danger of impeachment following corruption scandals involving his family and to advance his legislative agenda, Bolsonaro has sought to forge alliances with politicians he had once pilloried for corruption and who are major supporters of the end of the car wash.
The president, who praised Car Wash during his successful presidential campaign in 2018, did not say whether he thought the task force’s mandate should be extended by his representative Aras.
On the left, many Workers’ Party members also want the disappearance of a team of prosecutors who jailed former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva for receiving bribes, which the party has denounced as a politically motivated lawsuit.
Meanwhile, the task force’s key ally in government is gone.
Sergio Moro, the former senior federal car wash judge, resigned his post as justice minister to Bolsonaro in April after accusing the president of trying to interfere in police operations that could have been successful in pursuit of his eldest son.
In comments emailed to Reuters, Moro said the car wash investigation ended a long tradition of impunity for corruption in Brazil.
“It was so vast that it created enemies among some politically powerful people,” he said.
Reporting by Ricardo Brito; Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Rosalba O’Brien