Jailed at last

November 22, 2013

The Economist, 11/23/2013

AS CHIEF of staff to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in 2003-05, José Dirceu was the second most powerful man in Brazil. Then claims surfaced that he and other leaders of the ruling Workers’ Party (PT) were orchestrating a scheme to bribe allies in return for congressional support. Few Brazilians believed that Mr Dirceu, who resigned, would be charged, let alone convicted or jailed in a country where impunity for politicians has long been the norm. But on November 15th the supreme-court president, Joaquim Barbosa, issued warrants for the arrest of Mr Dirceu and 11 others among the 25 found guilty last year of, variously, bribery, money-laundering, misuse of public funds and conspiracy, in a case known to Brazilians as the mensalão (big monthly stipend).

Sharing Mr Dirceu’s Brasília prison cell are José Genoino and Delúbio Soares, formerly the PT’s president and treasurer respectively. Henrique Pizzolato, a former director of the state-controlled Banco do Brasil, guilty of laundering some of the money, quietly fled to Italy, where he also has citizenship, some weeks ago. Authorities there have hinted that his extradition would be more likely if Brazil rethought its 2010 decision to shelter Cesare Battisti, an Italian bomber facing a life sentence.

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Brazil’s mensaleiros go to jail

November 13, 2012

Jonathan Wheatley – Financial Times, 11/13/2012

Astonishing news from Brazil on Monday night: politicians are going to jail. Not just being convicted of crimes, you understand: actually going to jail.

It was big enough news in October when Brazil’s supreme court began handing down guilty verdicts to those accused of involvement in the mensalão, a vote-buying scheme allegedly operated in Congress in 2003 and 2004 by people close to then President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. That those people will really do time is a huge advance for the rule of law and respect for institutions in Brazil.

If it seems odd to be surprised that people convicted of wrong-doing should be punished, bear in mind the history of impunity  in Brazil. Steady nerve and a brass neck – plus, as required, cash and lawyers – have traditionally been enough to let powerful Brazilians both literally and metaphorically get away with murder.

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