Sat, Jan 21, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Brazilian judge killed in crash

‘MERE ACCIDENT’?Teori Zavascki held such an important role in the probe into a bribe scheme at Petrobras that many Brazilians voiced fears of possible foul play

AP, RIO DE JANEIRO

Brazilian Supreme Court Justice Teori Zavascki has died in a plane crash just weeks before he was to rule on a major corruption case that could implicate high-ranking politicians in several Latin American nations.

While the cause of Thursday’s crash off a popular Brazilian coastal town had not been determined, Zavascki held such an important role in the sprawling “Car Wash” investigation into a multibillion-dollar bribe scheme at the state oil company Petrobras that many Brazilians and even international groups such as Transparency International immediately voiced fears of possible foul play, demanding a full investigation.

“Justice Teori Zavascki had been strongly driving the Carwash investigation in the Supreme Court. It’s hard to believe this was a mere accident,” Brazilian National Association of Prosecutors director Alan Mansur tweeted.

Federal police said late on Thursday that they were launching an investigation.

The plane, which officials said was carrying Zavascki and four others, crashed outside Paraty, a coastal town about 250km west of Rio de Janeiro. Witnesses speaking to Globo television said it was raining hard at the time, which is typical during the southern hemisphere summer.

Within an hour of the news of Zavascki’s death, Brazilian President Michel Temer, who has been implicated by some suspects caught up in the Petrobras investigation, but has not been charged, addressed the nation.

Zavascki “was a good man, and a [symbol of] pride for all Brazilians,” said Temer, who called for three days of national mourning.

Authorities said that three bodies had been recovered so far. The other dead men were identified as businessman Carlos Alberto Filgueiras and pilot Osmar Rodrigues. The identities of the remaining two were not released.

While the largest corruption probe in Brazil’s history has been led by a team of prosecutors and Judge Sergio Moro in the southern city of Curitiba, Zavascki handled cases involving politicians. Under Brazilian law, only the Supreme Court can decide to charge or jail federal politicians.

Zavascki had been reviewing the dozens of plea bargains of former and current executives of the big Odebrecht construction company, which was one of the main players in the kickback scheme at Petrobras that investigators allege involved more than US$2 billion in bribes over a decade.

Over the past two years, dozens of politicians and businesspeople have been jailed in the sprawling probe.

Zavascki was expected to decide which of the Odebrecht plea bargains to validate by February. Validation would make them public, potentially implicating dozens of politicians in Brazil and several other nations where Odebrecht did business.

It is not clear what will happen to the “Car Wash” cases that Zavascki was overseeing. They could be split among other justices at the court or possibly assigned to just one justice.

The death will delay the probe, “but is unlikely to represent much of a blow,” risk consultancy Eurasia said.

About 100 politicians and business executives have already been arrested or are under investigation in Brazil for allegedly overcharging contracts with Petrobras and other state-run companies to pay for bribes and election campaigns.

In addition to Temer, senior Cabinet members and close aides and allies of the president have been implicated in testimony from some of those arrested.

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