A blow against impunity

November 15, 2012

H.J. – The Economist, 11/15/2012

Brazil’s mensalão trial has brought many historic moments (see here and here), and this week saw one more: an impeccably well-connected politico getting such a long prison sentence that even the best lawyer will struggle to save him from doing time. On November 12th José Dirceu, who served as chief of staff for former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva from 2003 to 2005, was sentenced to ten years and ten months in jail for his part in the huge vote-buying scheme. Two other prominent members of the Workers’ Party (PT) also received stiff sentences: Delubio Soares, its former treasurer, got eight years and 11 months in prison, and José Genoino, its former president, six years and 11 months.

It sometimes appears that the Brazilian criminal-justice system locks people up on a whim. Half the prison population has either not yet been tried or is awaiting a final verdict, and much of the other half committed non-violent property or drugs crimes. But for those with resources, it allows huge scope for delay, leeway on sentencing and almost unlimited appeals. The three men, along with the other 22 who have been found guilty of crimes such as money-laundering, corruption, embezzlement and misuse of public money, benefited from a rule known as “privileged forum” which says that top politicians can only be tried for crimes in higher courts. In this case, the Supreme Court, which normally deals with constitutional, not criminal matters, had to decide to take the case. That meant that though the scandal surfaced in 2005, the trial only started this year, in August.

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Lula aide sentenced to prison in Brazil graft trial

November 13, 2012

Raymond Colitt – Bloomberg Businessweek, 11/12/2012

Brazil’s Supreme Court sentenced a top aide to former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to prison, the first time the high court has ordered an ex-Cabinet member to jail for corruption since the return of democracy.

Former Cabinet chief Jose Dirceu was sentenced yesterday to almost 11 years for masterminding a scheme to siphon off public funds used to bribe legislators in the first two years of Lula’s 2003-2011 government. Dirceu, a leader of the ruling Workers’ Party who was once considered Lula’s potential successor, was also fined 646,000 reais ($315,000) as part of his conviction on criminal conspiracy and corruption charges.

Putting a former Cabinet member behind bars may reinforce the fight to clean up government in Latin America’s biggest economy, which ranks behind Cuba and Saudi Arabia in Transparency International’s annual ranking of corruption around the world. Graft costs the world’s sixth-largest economy as much as 85 billion reais a year, nearly double what the government spent on roads, ports and airports in 2011, according to estimates by the Sao Paulo Industry Federation.

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Corruption trial makes black Brazilian judge a hero

November 1, 2012

Reuters/CNBC, 11/01/2012

As the biggest corruption trial in Brazilian history comes to an end with convictions of once-powerful politicians, at least one hero has emerged from the mess — the first black member of the country’s Supreme Court.

People stop Justice Joaquim Barbosa in the street to thank him. Revelers in Rio de Janeiro have been buying Barbosa carnival masks and wearing them in demonstrations. His childhood picture recently graced the cover of the country’s biggest newsweekly with the caption “The Poor Boy Who Changed Brazil.”s

The gratitude follows Barbosa’s dogged pursuit of guilty verdicts against some of the closest associates of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva for their involvement in a widespread vote-buying scandal seven years ago.

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Brazil’s silent revolution

October 12, 2012

Joe Leahy – Financial Times, 10/11/2012

It is not often that the endless corruption scandals and political squabbles in Brasília make their way into the brokerage reports of Wall Street and Faria Lima, São Paulo’s financial district.

But in the past few weeks, the word “Mensalão” has begun appearing with more frequency in analysts’ notes.

The term, which means “big monthly allowance”, is the name of Brazil’s biggest corruption scandal, in which former ruling Workers’ Party (PT) lieutenants of ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva paid a stipend to opposition politicians using money stolen from government enterprises and elsewhere in return for their support in Congress.

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Barbosa made first black head of Brazil’s Supreme Court

October 11, 2012

BBC – 10/11/2012

Judge Joaquim Barbosa, who was born into a poor family, has been praised for his judicial independence.

He will take over the post once the “Mensalao” corruption trial ends.

Brazil has the largest black population after Nigeria. Many are descended from African slaves, but black people rarely achieve high office.

Mr Barbosa, 58, was elected by his fellow judges, following the Court’s tradition of nominating its most senior member.

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Brazil: Majority of top court convicts ex-top aide

October 11, 2012

Jenny Barchfield – Bloomberg, 10/10/2012

The one-time right-hand-man of popular former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was found guilty on a corruption charge by a majority of 10 Supreme Court justices Tuesday, who ruled he orchestrated a widespread cash-for-votes scheme that came to light seven years ago.

Six of the eight justices who voted found Jose Dirceu guilty of “active corruption” by organizing the scheme to buy congressional support for Silva’s policies through regular payments to legislators in exchange for their votes. Two more justices will vote Wednesday, producing a formal verdict, but a majority is all that’s needed for conviction.

The case is known in Brazil as “mensalao,” or big monthly allowance, for the sums of up to $10,000 handed over to politicians.

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Brazilian corruption trial dims Lula’s aura

October 10, 2012

Anthony Boadle – Reuters, 10/09/2012

Until a few weeks ago, Brazil’s most popular politician and two-time president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, could seemingly do no wrong.

Yet a corruption trial involving many of his closest former aides, plus new evidence that he was not the economic wizard some took him for, has tarnished Lula’s reputation – and cooled speculation that he might try to return as president in 2014.

Mesmerized Brazilians have watched for two months on live TV as several of Lula’s former confidants stood trial on charges that they bribed legislators in Congress during his 2003-10 presidency. The Supreme Court convicted three of his top aides for corruption on Tuesday, including former chief of staff Jose Dirceu, the power-broker in the Lula government.

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Brazil Mensalao corruption trial reaches key stage

October 3, 2012

BBC, 10/03/2012

The judges will begin delivering their findings on Jose Dirceu, a leading figure from the government of former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Mr Dirceu is accused of overseeing a scheme that used public funds to buy support from other political parties.

The case, with 37 defendants, is seen as a key test of holding Brazil’s politicians to account for corruption.

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Mensalão trial resumes with voting on defendants from Worker’s Party (PTB) and Democratic Party (PMDB)

September 26, 2012

BBC Brasil – 9/26/2012

Justice Lewandowski’s vote on Jefferson is one of the most awaited moments of the day.

The Brazilian Supreme Court (STF) resumed the mensalão trial on Wednesday, September 26th with the continuation of Supreme Court Minister, Justice Ricardo Lewandowski’s vote.

During the reading of his vote, he will judge the whistleblower, Roberto Jefferson (PTB), a former congressman accused of corruption and money laundering.

Jefferson is accused of receiving 4 million Real, in a scheme that became known as “valerioduto” in 2005 involving illegal payments to favor Lula in the polls.

Romeo Queiroz (PTB), José Borba (former PMDB) and Emerson Palmieri (former PTB) will also be judged.

Lewandowski had already condemned the former congressman and former president of PL (Liberal Party), Valdemar Costa Neto, on Monday, for bribery and money laundering.

Those accused from the PTB and PMDB have been convicted by Minister of the Supreme Court, Joaquim Barbosa, justice of the trial.

Upon first announcing his vote last week, Lewandowski showed to once again digress from Justice Joaquim Barbosa’s vote on the sentencing of the 12 defendants, according to Agência Brasil.

One of the divergent points between Lewandowski and Barbosa is on money laundering; a central issue involving the 13 defendants whose sentencing is, at this moment, being determined by the Brazilian Supreme Court.

On Wednesday, Barbosa stated that former congressman, Roberto Jefferson (PTB), has committed bribery.

Jefferson was the informant of the mensalão scandal. Among the charges that were analyzed are crimes of bribery, conspiracy and money laundering involving core parties allied in 2003 and 2004 during President Lula’s administration.

Watch video footage and read in Portuguese…


A rupture with Brazil’s culture of cordiality

September 26, 2012

Gregory Michener – Al Jazeera, 9/22/2012

After a six hour trip from Rio de Janeiro to Belo Horizonte, our bus crawled at a snail’s pace as we winded our way to the terminal. The problem wasn’t traffic; the problem was that the bus driver kept stopping to let passengers off at the side of the road, in contravention of the rules. Unable to say “no” to half a dozen or so glib entreaties, the driver delayed us and everyone else.

This typifies the famous culture of cordiality in Brazil. Cordiality can be a mark of chivalry, but it can also be a foil for a culture in which conflict is studiously avoided. Brazilians don’t do well with conflict. Filipe Sobral of Brazil’s Fundação Getúlio Vargas University and Dean Bisseling of the University of Amsterdam analysed teams of Dutch and Brazilian professionals to test responses to “emotional and task conflict”. Brazilians saw conflict as having significantly undermined their team performance and overall satisfaction, whereas it had no such effect on the Dutch.

Conflict avoidance has its costs. This is particularly true in politics, where vigorous inter-branch and inter-party competition-cum-conflict can have a healthful effect on institutional accountability. A culture of cordiality involves not giving offence, and a desire not to offend can lead to accommodation – uneven applications of the rule of law and a reluctance to force critical reforms forward by confronting vested interests.

The mensalão trial – a rupture with political accommodation

In many ways, Brazil’s ongoing mensalão trial (see “Brazil’s ‘trial of the Century’“) represents a dramatic rupture with this institutional tradition, a culture in which the political elite rarely if ever convict and sanction those of their own kind. The trial centres on a political vote buying and money laundering scheme involving more than 35 defendants – bank executives, legislators, even former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s Chief of Staff. The mensalão itself – big monthly payments to legislators in exchange for votes – is an expression of the culture of cordiality: unwilling to assume the bully pulpit and shame legislators into yielding votes for the government’s mandate, the President’s men opted for the quiet consent won of bribery.

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