A blow against impunity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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