Thu, Apr 13, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Brazil corruption investigation expands

‘THE BOMB’:The Supreme Court has authorized probes into 108 politicians suspected of involvement in a huge embezzlement and bribery conspiracy involving Petrobras

AFP, BRASILIA

Brazil’s corruption crisis on Tuesday struck the heart of Brazilian President Michel Temer’s government with the opening of probes into up to nine ministers and scores of lawmakers.

What Brazilian media called “the bomb” and even “the atomic bomb” landed when the Supreme Court authorized probes against 108 politicians in the already giant “Car Wash” investigation.

They ranged from ministers to senior senators, at least four former presidents and the mayor of Rio de Janeiro during the Olympics last year.

All are suspected of involvement in a massive embezzlement and bribery conspiracy that fleeced state oil company Petrobras and funneled dirty money into leading political parties’ election war chests.

The so-called Car Wash investigation has already been running three years.

However, the new probes — which are not criminal charges — mark a dramatic surge in the legal onslaught. They also threaten the stability of Temer’s deeply unpopular government just as he struggles to enact austerity measures in a bid to pull Brazil out of a historic recession.

Supreme Court documents showed that nine ministers were on the list of targeted politicians. They included Temer’s influential chief of staff Eliseu Padilha, newly appointed Brazilian Minister of Foreign Affairs Aloysio Nunes and Brazilian Minister of Agriculture Blairo Maggi.

Conflicting Brazilian media reports on the list, which first appeared as a surprise leak in Estadao newspaper, suggested that the final number of ministers could go down to eight.

In addition, the Supreme Court authorized probes against the Rio and Sao Paulo state governors, 29 senators and at least 40 members of the lower house of Congress. Among the lawmakers were the speakers of the upper and lower houses.

The Supreme Court handles all cases involving sitting politicians and was responding to a request last month by top prosecutor Rodrigo Janot to open the cases.

However, also on Janot’s list, then passed on by the Supreme Court to lower courts, were many major figures no longer in office.

They included three former presidents: Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and his successor Dilma Rousseff. A fourth former president, Fernando Collor de Mello, will be probed under Supreme Court jurisdiction because he is now a senator.

Brazilian media reports said that a fifth, Jose Sarney, was also on the list.

The former mayor of Rio de Janeiro during the Olympics, Eduardo Paes, was on the list. He is alleged to have taken about 15 million Brazilian reais (US$4.8 million) in bribes.

The allegations on Janot’s list are based on a deluge of testimony given in connection with plea bargains struck with 77 former executives of the giant Odebrecht construction firm, which was at the heart of the Petrobras scheme.

The former Odebrecht employees, including former chief executive Marcelo Odebrecht, have confessed to systemic bribery of politicians in exchange for inflated contracts with Petrobras and favorable legislation in Congress. The money went either directly into politicians’ pockets or into party campaign slush funds.

Odebrecht paid so many big bribes to so many politicians, executives say, that they set up a company department to manage the money.

The presidency’s only reaction to the bombshell late on Tuesday was that “it does not comment on ongoing investigations.”

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