Wed | Dec 13, 2017

Editorial | Attacking corruption Brazil style

Published:Wednesday | July 12, 2017 | 12:00 AM

There is a decent chance that Brazil's president, Michel Temer, will be placed on trial for taking bribes and other forms of corruption. For that to happen, he will first have to be impeached and stripped of presidential immunity.

On Monday, Sergio Zveiter, the legislator who was tasked by the Constitution of Justice Committee of Brazil's Chamber of Deputies to review prosecutors' claims against Mr Temer, concluded that there is a case to answer. The full committee will now have to vote on the matter.

If they agree with Mr Zveiter, the issue will then go before the full chamber, where a two-thirds majority is required for an impeachment, leading to Mr Temer's suspension for up to 180 days. Thereafter, the case would move to the Senate, where it requires a simple majority among its 81 members for there to be a trial. It would then require a two-thirds majority to remove the president.

Should this happen, it would be a second time in a year that a Brazilian president will have been thrown out of office - and poetic justice of sorts for Mr Temer. Last September, Dilma Rousseff was impeached, ostensibly for cooking the books to show the Government's fiscal accounts in a better state than they really were.

But the real reason that legislators moved against Ms Rousseff, with apparent encouragement from Mr Temer, who was her deputy, was because of her refusal to shut down a major investigation into corruption that has ensnared hundreds of business leaders and politicians, including now Mr Temer. Scores of these people are now in jail. Ms Rousseff herself, as well as mentor and predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, has also been implicated in the scandals, but haven't faced charges.

The constitutional and legal arrangements in Brazil and Jamaica are not quite congruent, but the developments in the South American country, this newspaper believes, is a worthy case study of how to deal with a problem that both countries share in common - endemic corruption.

It used to be the case that in relation to corruption, Brazil's business and political elite not only acted in concert, but with impunity, as the corruption probe, with the code name Lava Jato (Car Wash), revealed. In a scheme that sounds familiar to accusations recently heard in Jamaica, firms - private and public - would be overpaid on contracts, thus allowing cash for kickbacks to politicians for their private use and the funding of elections.

 

BROKE TRADITION

 

Two things changed in Brazil, allowing for an operation like the Car Wash investigation, one of which has some parallels in Jamaica.

During the Lula and Rousseff presidencies, significant attempts were made to upgrade legislation against corruption. Anti-corruption agencies and their investigators were empowered and better funded. The federal prosecutor's office gained greater autonomy, with the boss elected from among names proposed by the country's association of prosecutors after a canvass. During the Lula-Rousseff presidencies, the top name was selected, but Mr Temer recently broke that tradition.

More important for the effectiveness of Car Wash, there was a confluence of people of extraordinary courage at the helm of the investigation.

Not least of these is Rodrigo Janot, the outgoing prosecutor general, whose latest big acts, among many, are the charges against President Temer. Sergio Moro is a sometimes controversial investigative federal judge who has aggressively pursued Car Wash and associated cases, helping to convict and put behind bars hundreds of people. And there was Teori Zavascki, the chief justice who oversaw the investigation, who in January died in a mysterious air crash not far from the Rio airport. They resisted threats of all sorts and not a few attempts by the political and business Establishment to abort Car Wash.