Can you buy off laws and politicians in Brazil? The testimonies of Brazilian top managers

By Elizangela Valarini and Markus Pohlmann

Source: Pixabay

Teori Zavascki, one of the 11 Ministers of the Supreme Federal Court of Brazil, was killed on 19 January 2017 in an aircraft crash. Teori Zavascki was the justice presiding over the trials resulting from Operation Car Wash. He was in charge of the legal proceedings of Petrobras Scandal and the intertwining relations between economic and political corruptions in Brazil it helped to unearth. His successor, Luiz Edson Fachin, has now assumed the mantle.

Since the beginning of Operation Car Wash, dozens of Brazilian politicians, members of government and high-ranking officials, as well as top executives and entrepreneurs of many big companies have been investigated. Roughly 67 politicians and members of government are presently the targets of investigations and legal proceedings; in addition, the donation list of Marcelo Odebrecht, an entrepreneur in the construction business, was made public and helped to bring another 280 politicians to the attention of the Brazilian judiciary. In the ongoing trials, twelve politicians have already been sentenced to an average of 15 years in prison. A ‘Leniency Agreement’ was concluded with Mr Odebrecht’s construction group to ensure its full co-operation. The testimonies of corporate managers and executives who were implicated shed more and more light onto the dubious entanglements between politics and businesses in Brazil.

Entanglements between politics and businesses

One of the first testimonies under the framework of this agreement came from Claudio Melo Filho, a senior manager of the construction group. His testimonies – whatever judicial value they may turn out to have – suggest that in Brazil, the relations between big companies and politicians who hold the lever of state power go far beyond bestowing simple favours and minor legal backings. According to Melo Filho, Odebrecht and other companies were able to ensure that certain laws were bended in their favor. As part of this Brazilian favoritism in politics and legislation, according to Melo Filho, companies like Mr. Odebrecht‘s returned the favour of influential politicians, candidates and parties in their clique by meeting their political interest and personal wishes. Mr. Odebrecht‘s manager describes how, over a twelve-year period, his company managed to build a network of inroads to cover many high-ranking politicians.

Filho lists payments by Mr. Odebrecht‘s construction group to various politicians who are now the subject of many investigations and legal proceedings. According to his testimonies, these payments, to the tune of millions of US dollars, were supposed to change certain laws in favour of Mr. Odebrecht‘s and other companies. This included, for example, a modification to the legislation on tax preferential treatment of corporate profits of Brazilian companies operating abroad (MP 627/13). Mr. Odebrecht‘s manager also mentions nine other legislative reforms and legislative proposals that have been influenced by political donations and payment of bribes over the last decade.

These testimonies on political corruption in Brazil, among others, make it clear that this way of funding politicians and parties has been systematically performed by all major political parties. According to the current investigation, 51 percent of the accused and convicted come from the PP party (Partido Progressista), 22 percent from the PMDB party (Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro), 18 percent from the PT party (Partido dos Trabalhadores), around 3 percent from the PSDB party (Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira) and 6 percent from other parties. Admittedly, these results ​​are now changing on a daily basis. What we now know is that Mr.  Odebrecht‘s construction group handed out approximately US$ 14.4 million to 15 different political parties during the 2014 presidential and gubernatorial elections alone. According to João Vaccari, a former accountant of the PT party, he had received roughly US$ 200 million for the PT party alone between 2003 and 2013. As evidenced by the previous investigations, the Petrobras bribery system paid out somewhere between US$ 3 and 6 billion as political donations and bribes over the last 10 to 15 years.

Political corruption served various purposes

So far, investigations of Operation Car Wash show that political corruption served various purposes in Brazil. It facilitated personal enrichment, funded election campaigns and political parties, and influenced legislations. The case of José Dirceu of the PT party, who was the former presidential minister and has been sentenced to more than 23 years in prison on charges of bribery, money laundering and membership in a criminal organization, makes clear the connections between personal enrichment and party interest. In one of these criminal trials, it became apparent that he had received from Petrobras‘ then-chairman of the board bribes worth US$ 3.9 million, part of which he then handed over to the PT party. However, he retained around US$ 1 million for himself, which he then invested, for example, in real estate properties.

Those who have hitherto been ignorant or have had no capacity to estimate the extent of political corruption are now being provided with more and more evidence by the Brazilian judiciary: a system of political corruption existed in Brazil, the extent of which is becoming increasingly evident with each additional legal proceeding. It is striking that none of Brazil‘s political leaders is willing to take the political responsibility. All of them are waiting and washing their hands in innocence, until they are taken to court or happily escape condemnation. This is also part of a political system which, as now becomes more and more apparent, is characterized by organized irresponsibility and graft. It is to be hoped that no more judges will tragically lose their lives, and that the new era of fighting against corruption.

 

Sources

Netto, Vladimir (2016): Lava Jato. O Juiz Sergio Moro e os Bastidores da Operação que abalou o Brasil. Rio de Janeiro: Primeira Pessoa

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Dokument: Anexo pessoal von Claudio Melo Filho, Acordo de Leniencia Odebrecht

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