Mac Margolis – The Daily Beast, 08/27/2012
To the suits in Brasília, it’s simply Penal Action Case 470. For everyone else in Brazil, it’s the trial of the century. Known colloquially as the mensalão—the monthly payoff scandal—the case will decide the fortunes of some three dozen high-profile former government officials and prominent executives who stand accused of a farrago of felonies, from money laundering to buying votes.
More than the fate of the 37 defendants, however, the case currently unfolding in the Supreme Court—and being followed gavel to gavel in real time by millions of Brazilians—will also say a great deal about the rule of law and the quality of democracy in Latin America’s most powerful country.
Togaed and taciturn, Brazil’s 11 Supreme Court justices haven’t been under this much scrutiny since the trial of disgraced former president Fernando Collor de Mello, who in 1992 resigned under a cloud of misdeeds (though he was eventually cleared of corruption). And yet the scope and impact of the mensalão—according to prosecutors it stretched from the national Congress to the presidential palace—is potentially far more devastating.