Brazil’s supreme court has approved the investigation of dozens of politicians, including a former president (Collor de Melo) and leaders of congress, for alleged connections to what prosecutors call the country’s biggest ever corruption scandal.
In total, 54 people are to be investigated, including 21 federal deputies and 12 senators — though that figure is expected to grow as evidence is gathered on corruption involving the state oil company Petrobras.
The investigations and any possible trials will take years to play out, but the action announced on Friday throws the second term of president Dilma Rousseff into further disarray as she faces dueling political and economic crises. She is not being investigated despite serving as chair of the Petrobras board for several years as the kickback scheme played out.
“You can’t put this genie back in the bottle. People are going to have to face the consequences,” said Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. “There used to be the idea that people in positions of power in Brazil were untouchable. They’re no longer untouchable.”
Federal investigators revealed a year ago that they had started an investigation into the scheme, and efforts until now focused efforts on big construction and engineering firms that allegedly paid over $800m in bribes and other funds. The money purportedly won them inflated contracts with Petrobras and prosecutors say some of that cash flowed into the campaign coffers of the president’s Workers’ Party and its allies.
Among those the high court said would now be investigated are former president and current senator Fernando Collor, who was forced from the presidency by a corruption scandal in 1992 before making a political comeback in recent years.
Also to be investigated are senate leader Renan Calheiros and Eduardo Cunha, who is the leader of the lower house. Both are members of the powerful Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, part of the governing coalition led by the Workers’ Party. Both have already shown they are ready to create serious gridlock in congress because of the investigation.
Ex—president Fernando Collor
Senate leader Renan Calheiros
Leader of the Lower House Eduardo Cunha
Rosemary Segurado, a political scientist at the University of Sao Paulo, said the two congressional leaders would use the investigation as a “bargaining chip” if Rousseff’s government fails to protect them in some fashion, “causing problems by blocking important projects”. She cited tax, fiscal and political reforms needed as Brazil’s economy stalls into recession.
The scandal has seriously damaged the reputation of Petrobras, Brazil’s largest company. It is responsible for tapping upward of 100 billion barrels of offshore oil found in recent years, wealth that leaders have repeatedly said they view as the nation’s “passport” to achieving developed-world status. But the debt-plagued company is struggling — it was recently downgraded to junk status by Moody’s Investors Service and it said this week it would sharply cut back investment and sell off assets.
Adapted from The Guardian, by Milton França
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