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Brazil corruption scandal widens

Brazil corruption scandal widens

Former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio ‘Lula’ da Silva, left, and Supreme Court Justice Gilmar Mendes in happier times.

The corruption scandal involving the illegal gambling lord Carlinhos Cachoeira and Senator Demóstenes Torres widened last week when the newsweekly Veja ran a story quoting Supreme Court Justice Gilmar Mendes alleging that former president Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva had asked him during a meeting in Brasilia on April 26 to postpone the trial of the mensalão until after municipal elections in October. In return, Lula promised to shield the judge from the CPI, or parliamentary committee of investigation, that is looking at the links between Cachoeira and various politicians.

“What about that little trip of yours to Germany?” Lula supposedly asked Mendes, in reference to claims that Torres had paid for the judge’s trip. Mendes denied publicly that Torres had paid for his trip, producing his credit card records to prove that he had paid for them himself.

“I alone sold more than 80,000 copies of my law textbook since 2007,” Mendes boasted to the O Globo newspaper. “Why would I need anyone to pay for my trip to Germany?” The judge admitted that he travels regularly to Germany to teach and to visit one of his daughters who lives there. He claims that his encounter with Sen. Torres in Germany in 2011 was just a mere coincidence, and that it had not been pre-planned.

Cachoeira is currently being held in the Papuda jail near Brasilia, and is thought to have been involved in a pay-off scheme involving the governors of Goias, Rio de Janeiro and the Distrito Federal, and the construction company Delta, which until recently was the single-largest recipient of federal government contracts. He is thought to have paid off the governors with money and favors, and in return they agreed to look the other way while he ran his illegal numbers game.

The mensalão corruption scheme was uncovered in 2005 when Lula was still president, and it consisted of the president’s Workers Party, or PT in Portuguese, paying off allied politicians on a monthly basis in order to get them to vote for government backed legislation in Congress. Lula’s chief of staff at the time, José Dirceu, was forced to resign after he was accused of heading the whole scheme. Now he and 17 others are facing trial before the Supreme Court accused of corruption, both active and passive, and of forming a criminal gang.

Critics of the PT, claim that the court has been dragging its feet in preparing the many volumes of evidence and testimony against the accused, in an attempt to get most of the accusations dismissed because of the legal prescription that will occur if they are not tried within the required time limits. The Supreme Court judges have denied foot dragging, claiming they are working as fast as they can. The frustration at the delay in getting the actual trial underway, led a group of concerned citizens on May 30 to present to the court a petition with 35,000 signatures asking that the mensalão trial begin soon.

Carlinhos Cachoeira, left, and Sen. Demostenes Torres

Sen. Torres this week gave pained and self-pitying televised testimony in front of the Senate’s Ethics Committee, which is deciding whether he will be able to continue as a senator or be thrown out. The senator denied that he knew Cachoeira was a criminal, but admitted that he had accepted a cell phone from the man. When asked why he had tipped off Cachoeira to a federal police push to apprehend slot machines used for illegal gambling, the senator claimed that he was testing Cachoeira to see if he really was crooked.

Torres has already been forced to resign from his former party, the Democratas, and if found guilty by the Senate Ethics Committee could be barred from holding public office for at least five years under the ficha limpa law that was passed in 2010.

But tensions remain high in Brasilia, with two politicians screaming at each other on Thursday, May 31, when Torres refused to answer any questions at the CPI probing Cachoeira, claiming he had already said all he intended to two days before at the ethics committee. The fight broke out after congressman Silvio Costa attacked Torres saying: “Your silence is the most perfect proof of your guilt. Your silence writes in capital letters that ‘I, Demóstenes Torres, am yes a member of Cachoeira’s gang. That I am the legislative arm of Cachoeira’s criminal organization. I saw your testimony in front of the Ethics Committee. …You said you were betrayed, but it was you who betrayed your friends, Goias, and Brazil. You said you were a saint, but you sir, are not going to heaven. Heaven is not for liars and hypocrites. You are silent and I know why!”

This attack on Torres produced an objection by Senator Pedro Taques, and that is when a furious argument took place between the senator and Costa, who cursed the senator, saying that he had voted in favor of Torres in the ethics committee and that he was protecting the besieged senator. “You are a shit, a son of a bitch!” Costa screamed at Taques. That was when the session was suspended.

Cachoeira is being tried in criminal court in the state of Goias, and state prosecutors have already said that with the mountain of evidence they have against the man, that he will most likely be sentenced to 20-30 years imprisonment.

As for Torres, his fate looks equally murky, with the ethics committee most likely voting to kick him out of the Senate. For a man that started his political career so brightly, it is a shame to see him fall so quickly and nastily.