Corruption probes shake Brazil
Ministers, lawmakers and governors are investigated for taking bribes
13 April, 2017
The Supreme Court in Brazil caused a strong institutional and political earthquake last Tuesday ordering investigations into eight ministers of President Michael Temer's government. In addition, the Supreme Court authorised 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. All of them are allegedly linked to the country's biggest corruption scandal over the state-run oil company Petrobras. A number of those to be probed also include politicians commonly assumed to be potential candidates for Brazil's presidential elections in 2018. Former presidents Henrique Cardoso, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff are already under investigation. Brazilian media said Magistrate Edson Fachin's decision was “a bomb” and even an "atomic bomb". The list totaling at least 108 politicians, became public when Fachin lifted the seal on plea bargain testimony from 77 employees of construction company Odebrecht, which has admitted paying millions of dollars in bribes. Local media have reported the testimony accuses dozens of politicians of taking bribes to help what was once Latin America's biggest builder win lucrative contracts with Petrobras. The former Odebrecht employees, including ex-CEO 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 investigation, which covers nearly a third of the president's cabinet, poses a serious threat to Temer's efforts to pass austerity reforms that he says are needed to regain investor confidence and lift the economy out of its worst recession on record. In the list is also Temer's chief of staff Eliseu Padilha, an experienced politician considered key in negotiations with Congress to pass the administration's crucial pension reform. Padilha said he will defend himself in court. Temer's ministers of foreign affairs, trade and agriculture also are under investigation.
President Temer has vowed to suspend ministers who are charged and dismiss any if indicted. But aides close to Temer have told Reuters that it could take months for ministers to be charged, meaning Padilha and other key cabinet members likely will stay in their posts long enough to secure the pension reform's passage.
The presidency's only reaction to the bombshell was that "it does not comment on ongoing investigations. President Michel Temer has been excluded from the list since he enjoys “temporary immunity”, according to Justice Fachin. While in office, the president can't be charged for crimes not committed during his mandate. Temer took the Presidency last year from Dilma Rousseff after she was impeached for illegal handling of government finances. She claims she was victim of a coup.