Hundreds of new corruption investigations could stem from testimony provided by executives of Brazil’s biggest construction firm, media reports suggest, raising questions about the potential impact of the South American country’s long-running and expansive anti-graft drive.
Carlos Lima, one of the leading prosecutors in Brazil’s so-called “Car Wash” investigation, told Reuters on March 14 that “there will be upward of 350 new investigations that will begin” as a result of testimony obtained through plea deals with executives of the now-infamous Odebrecht construction giant.
In December 2016, Odebrecht publicly admitted that a so-called “Department of Bribery” within the company paid hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes in a dozen countries over the course of more than a decade in order to obtain public works contracts, many of which were left unfinished.
Brazilian authorities have made extensive use of plea bargain agreements to secure testimony from top suspects in the massive corruption scandal, which also involved the state-run oil firm Petrobras, among other companies.
The information obtained through the plea deals has already implicated a number of political and economic elites, including current Brazilian President Michel Temer.
Now, the investigation could ensnare “almost everyone who has had any power over the past 10 to 20 years,” the Guardian reports.
“Five members of the cabinet, two former presidents — Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff — the current and former heads of both houses of Congress and at least two former opposition leaders — Aécio Neves and José Serra — are among the 83 politicians whose accusations were referred on Tuesday to the supreme court, according to local media,” the news outlet reported.
The Guardian added that Attorney General Rodrigo Janot had also reportedly referred 211 other cases to lower courts on March 14. Temer is not among those whose accusations Janot referred, the news outlet reported, describing the omission of the president from the list as “mysterious.”
The judicial files are still officially under seal, so InSight Crime was not able to independently verify these reports. Media reports have circulated for weeks suggesting the files may soon be unsealed.
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Sources close to the Car Wash investigation have previously described contents of the testimonies obtained through the plea agreements as a “time bomb,” a “tsunami,” and “the end of the world” due to their potential to mar the reputations of so many in the highest echelons of Brazilian politics. But questions remain as to whether the revelations will lead to lasting changes in Brazil’s notoriously corrupt political system.
The New York Times reports that Congress is considering strategies for granting amnesty to those who could be targeted by the anti-graft investigations. This could shield some potential defendants from prosecution, but public opposition is likely to prove a major obstacle to such a move. Previous similar proposals have been met with widespread outrage in Brazil.
However, even in the absence of an amnesty law, the significant expansion of the corruption probe could unite Brazil’s typically fractious political landscape around the goal of derailing the investigations.
Gil Castello Branco, the director of an anti-corruption watchdog group in Brazil, told the New York Times, “We have a saying in Brazil: ‘When the jungle is in flames, the beasts unite’ … Well, the fire has been lit, and all these politicians want to do is save their own skin.”
Fernando Limongi, a professor at the University of São Paulo, made similar comments to the Guardian.
“All the politicians are now in the same boat,” Limongi said. “What will happen is that the political class as a whole will look for a way out.”