Against corruption and for culture

“Documenting the Undocumented” by Huda Beydoun, 2013.

Misk Art Institute is organizing an October Arab art festival in New York and sending Saudi artists to study in California

By Rasheed Abualsamh

The sweep against corruption in Saudi Arabia began to wind down on Jan. 27, 2018, when Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a billionaire businessman, was released from his luxury jail at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in the capital, Riyadh.

Hours earlier, an interview that he gave to the Reuters news agency was posted on the internet. In the video, the prince – whose personal wealth is estimated at US$17 billion, making him one of the wealthiest men in the world — categorically denied that he is corrupt and said he had insisted on spending more time in the hotel to get rid of all suspicions. It seemed strange how he showed the little kitchen where they brought vegan dishes for his meals, since he owns a palace in Riyadh with more than 400 rooms. Alwaleed said he will return to running Kingdom Holding, which includes several cable TV networks, a record label, a stake in Banque Saudi Fransi and large stakes in Citibank, Apple, Twitter, and Lyft, among others.

News of Alwaleed’s release made the value of Kingdom Holding shares rise 10% in one day, after having fallen more than 20% when he was arrested in November.

Bakr bin Laden, the former head of the Saudi Binladin Group, was also freed last week. But the government now controls the construction company, although the Bin Laden family holds several seats on the executive board. The contractor faced difficult times in recent years, despite being hired for decades for the expansion of the mosques in Mecca and Medina. But a lamentable accident occurred in the Great Mosque of Mecca in 2015, when a crane fell during a violent gale and killed 107 people. It seems that this sealed the fate of the company, which never recovered from the accident.

In any case, the Saudi attorney general, Sheikh Saud al-Mojeb, announced on Jan. 30, 2018, the end of investigations into the 325 people who had been detained at the Ritz-Carlton. He also announced that the government had recovered US$107 billion in deals made with the detained princes and businessmen. About 60 prisoners remain, who have refused to make a deal or admit to having made money illegally. They were transferred to Al-Hair prison, south of the Saudi capital, and will face legal proceedings.

As far as the eye can see, 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) has the support of the Saudi population for this anti-corruption campaign and for his liberalizing steps. Under his influence, his father, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, has allowed Saudi women to drive automobiles from June of this year. Until 2017, the conservative kingdom was the only country in the world that banned women from driving. King Salman also ordered the reopening of cinemas, after a break of more than 30 years, and allowed the entrance of women in sports stadiums to attend football matches.

But it is in the area of ​​culture that MBS is going further. He authorized the formation of the Misk Art Institute and appointed the Saudi artist Ahmed Mater to direct the institution. The Crown Prince already chairs the Misk Foundation, with educational, social, and cultural programs aimed at Saudi youth.

The institution has several Saudi artists on display at a museum in Brooklyn, New York, and is choosing the design for the Saudi pavilion at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale. The institute will also organize an Arab art festival in New York in October, and send Saudi artists to study in California. More than 60% of management positions in the entity are held by women.

Saudi directors were very excited about the news that cinemas were going to open again in the country. Until now, they could only display their works abroad or on the internet. Now, with these cultural reforms, they will be able to show their films in local cinemas or on Saudi TV.

Saudi filmmaker Faiza Ambah, who filmed “Mariam” in France in 2015 — about the struggle of a young Muslim woman on whether to use the hijab (Islamic veil) in her public school — told me that she recently showed her film to a mixed group of young Saudis at a café in Jeddah, and then participated in a conversation with the public about the topics touched on in her film.

“The audience’s reaction was very surprising to me,” she said. “First, they understood the movie on several levels. They really were movie fans. Half the audience was female, and two girls talked about relationships that did not work out over the issue of whether or not to use the hijab,” said the director.

According to Faiza, the next exhibition of a movie in that café is already scheduled, and will be a film of another Saudi director, Shahad Ameen.

Faiza told me that she has already received invitations to show short films on Saudi TV, and that the Misk Foundation is granting funding to filmmakers in the kingdom. “The King Abdul Aziz Cultural Center in the Eastern Province is also supporting Saudi filmmakers. They called me a year ago and asked me to share new projects with them, and they wanted to support me. And a university professor who was in the audience offered to provide me her students to be interns on any project that I would execute.”

Only five years ago, this level of official support for Saudi artists and filmmakers did not exist. Film funding always came from the private sector, and even so, several Saudi filmmakers had to seek foreign funding to make their films. But now, it seems the Saudi government has realized the soft power that culture has. It remains to be seen how much freedom Saudi artists will have.

–This article appeared originally in Portuguese in O Globo newspaper.

Dilma in hot water

Brazilian congressmen celebrate on April 17, 2016, as they reach the required number of "Yes" votes to impeach President Dilma Rousseff. (Agencia Brasil photo)

Brazilian congressmen celebrate on April 17, 2016, as they reach the required number of “Yes” votes to impeach President Dilma Rousseff. (Agencia Brasil photo)

UPDATE: The Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Brazilian Congress, voted 367-137 to impeach Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff on Sunday, April 18, 2016.

The impeachment motion now goes to the Senate, which should decide whether to accept or not by May 10. If they do, President Dilma will be immediately suspended as president for a maximum of 180 days. The Senate will then have to vote on the measure.

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

Brazilians are experiencing unprecedented political tension as the impeachment process against President Dilma Rousseff moves swiftly ahead. On Thursday, the Supreme Court met in a special session for eight hours to hear the government’s petition to have the impeachment stopped. The court in the end voted 8-2 to allow the process to go forward.

Speeches for and against the impeachment started being given in the lower house of Congress, the Chamber of Deputies, on Friday morning. They are scheduled to run in a marathon session until Sunday morning, with only a few breaks late at night to give the 513 congressmen a chance to sleep. On Sunday, the deputies will start voting on the impeachment. If Dilma is impeached by the lower house, she will be suspended as president for 180 days, during which the Senate will have to debate and vote on the motion. Vice-president Michel Temer, who is the son of Lebanese immigrants, will immediately assume the presidency as soon as the lower house votes in favor of the impeachment. If he does make it, he will be Brazil’s first ever president of Arab descent.

According to polls taken by all the major newspapers, Dilma will lose the vote in the House of Deputies and in the Senate too. She seems to realize that she is on the way out, but in interviews this past week has vowed to fight to the last minute. The Folha de Sao Paulo counted 338 votes in favor of her impeachment in the lower house, with 123 votes against the motion, and 52 lawmakers still undecided. For the motion to pass they would need 342 votes. In the Senate, out of a total of 81 senators, the paper counts 44 senators in favor of impeachment, 19 against and 18 undecided. For the motion to pass only 41 votes are needed.

The whole impeachment process has sharply divided Brazilians along ideological lines. Poorer Brazilians and leftist intellectuals have remained strong supporters of President Dilma and her Workers’ Party, though most will not deny that she has not handled the economy well at all. Middle class and wealthier Brazilians have been leading the massive protests against the president and her party, calling on her to be impeached or for her resignation.

Both pro- and anti-impeachment groups have called for huge rallies on Sunday across the nation. Fearing that violence may break out between the opposing groups, the governor of the Federal District ordered that a 2-meter high metal be installed in the Esplanade of the Ministries, a grassy mall that runs from the central bus station to Congress in the center of Brasilia, with all of the ministries ranged on either side of the mall.

The wall is one-kilometer long and has already been dubbed the “Berlin Wall” and the “Wall of Shame” of Brasilia by locals upset at seeing their public space so sharply divided. The federal minister of justice called it a “crazy idea” in a television interview. Some observers have said they fear that violence may break out between the Movimento dos Sem Terra (Movement for the Landless) activists and the pro-impeachment crowd. The MST members are known for using violent tactics in their protests, burning tires and throwing dangerous objects at riot police.

The polarization of Brazilian society caused by this political debate has become so severe that even a Brazilian doctor recently announced she could no longer the treat the child of a Workers’ Party activist because she could not stand the ruling party. The local doctors union defended the doctor’s decision, saying she should be proud of what she did, pointing out that no doctor is obliged to provide medical treatment to someone they did not like unless it is an emergency or they were the only doctor in the area.

In the meantime, Vice President Temer has been busy having meetings with groups of politicians, all eager to get an appointment in the new government they see coming soon. President Dilma has been decimated by the departure of the PMDB party from her ruling coalition, as well as that of a slew of smaller parties, and is trying to put on a brave face by visiting the camps of her ardent supporters who have traveled to Brasilia to protest for her on Sunday.

She has been looking very tired and run down in her public appearances. A major newsweekly magazine ran a particularly unflattering cover story claiming that the president was losing her mind because of all of the stress she has been under. Her defenders slammed the publication, claiming the article was sexist and mean-spirited. But the president has long had a reputation for being a tough woman who does suffer fools easily, and who regularly blows up and shouts at her ministers and staff members during meetings.

Supporters of the government call this impeachment a “coup attempt,” and many observers have pointed out that some of the congressmen voting for the impeachment have committed worse crimes than the president has. President Dilma has been accused of mismanaging government spending accounts by using creative accounting methods to hide the growing deficit.

We will have to wait and see if Temer as president will be able to turn around the Brazilian economy, which is going through one of its worst recessions in 100 years.

Questioning of Lula is sign of Brazilian maturity

Anti-Lula protesters shout at Congonhas airport in Sao Paulo on March 04, 2016, where the former president was taken for questioning by the federal police.

Anti-Lula protesters shout at Congonhas airport in Sao Paulo on March 04, 2016, where the former president was taken for questioning by the federal police. (AFP photo)

This column was printed in Arab News on March 6, 2016:

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

Brazilians awoke on Friday morning to the breaking news that the Federal Police and tax inspectors were parked outside the home of former President Luis Inacio “Lula” da Silva in Sao Bernardo do Campo, a suburb of Sao Paulo. This was the beginning of the 24th phase in the months-long “Car Wash” investigation into massive corruption at the state oil giant Petrobras. Lula was being taken into custody for questioning whether he wanted to go or not.

Soon supporters and critics of the former president had gathered outside his home, arguing and pushing each other. The police were quickly called in to take control of the situation, as Lula was questioned for nearly four hours at an office of the Federal Police at Congonhas Airport.

Lula took three lawyers with him and a federal congressman of his Workers’ Party. When it was over, he went to the headquarters of his party and gave an angry speech, railing against the excessive use of police intimidation and devolving into his usual accusations of the rich not being able to accept that a once poor man such as himself had made it to the presidency of the nation. It was the classic leftist class struggle spiel of the rich versus the poor.

Lula ruled Brazil for two terms as president from 2003 to 2010, and now the current President Dilma Rousseff, his protégée, has ruled Brazil from 2011 until now. While no one denies that the Workers’ Party helped lift millions of Brazilians out of poverty and gave them many new rights, the corruption of the politicians from this party has been so all-encompassing that practically no aspect of Brazilian life seems to have escaped its taint.
The “Car Wash” investigation, which is being led by the federal judge Sergio Moro, has found that top Petrobras officials were involved in a massive corruption, kickback and overpricing scheme that has involved a handful of the country’s major construction and engineering firms. These firms have been accused of funneling money gained from Petrobras to a host of politicians in illegal payments, including Lula. Even President Dilma’s 2010 election campaign fund has been linked to dirty money from construction companies.

Moro has been handing down reduced sentences, called “delacoes premiadas” in Portuguese, to get prime suspects to cooperate with investigators and spill the beans about all they know. The latest person to do so was Sen. Delcidio Amaral, the former head of the ruling party in the Senate. He was arrested late last year and just released a few weeks ago after he agreed to squeal on his co-conspirators.

Joao Santana, Lula and Dilma’s main election campaign strategist, and his wife were recently arrested after it was discovered that $7.5 million in tainted money had been paid to him by construction companies.

To top all of this off, Brazil is going through a severe economic recession. Its GDP shrank 3.8 percent in 2015, its worst performance since 1990, inflation is at 10.67 percent and unemployment is around 8 percent.

All of this has deeply polarized the Brazilian electorate, with most of the poorer Brazilians still supporting the Worker’s Party, while more educated and well-off Brazilians are fed-up with a never-ending stream of corruption scandals.

Having been one of the most popular presidents that Brazil has seen in modern times, Lula for a long time believed he was untouchable. The relentless investigation by Moro and the Federal Police has shown otherwise.

So far the independence of the investigators has been maintained despite alleged attempts by various ministers to get some of the accused off the hook. Hopefully the investigations will continue. This shows that Brazil has become a mature democracy where no one is above the law.

Brazil’s trial of the century: Corruption charges may finally undo ‘Lula’ da Silva

A view of the Brazilian Supreme Court in session. Note the stacks of documents entered into the mensalao trial.

This story was published by the International Business Times:

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

BRASILIA, Brazil — The legacy of Brazil’s hugely popular leftist former president, Luis Inacio “Lula” da Silva, who led South America’s largest economy from 2002 to 2010, is under threat from what observers are calling the “biggest corruption trial of the century.” That may be a little hyperbolic, considering that the case hinges on alleged payments amounting to the equivalent of US$50 million. By the standards of global corruption, not a giant sum.

But the trial’s other numbers — and the potential political impact of them — are big indeed: Thirty-eight politicians, bankers, businessmen and advertising executives are facing Brazil’s 11-member Supreme Court in a trial that began on August 3 after seven years of compiling and transcribing the testimony of 700 witnesses into 60,000 pages of court documents. Lula himself is not on trial, but top officials of his Workers’ Party (PT) are and he possibly faces a permanently besmirched reputation.

Lula’s safety net and anti-poverty programs as well as his economic successes have made him into a revered public figure — a recent  poll put his approval rating at 77 percent, higher than that of his successor and current president, Dilma Rousseff — but the president nearly got impeached in 2005 when the scandal broke and now he may find his legacy destroyed by the scandal.

A “Big Monthly Allowance”

The defendants are accused of running a payola and embezzlement scheme from 2003 until 2005, in which money was diverted from federal coffers through shady bank loans to finance monthly payouts to politicians of parties allied with Lula’s. Called the mensalão in Portuguese, which roughly translates as “big monthly allowance,” the payments were allegedly meant to ensure the support of political allies when key legislation came up for a vote on the floor of the Brazilian Congress. Prosecutors say the entire top level of the PT was involved.

The scheme supposedly paid R$30,000 a month (US$15,000 today) to politicians allied with the PT in Congress, according to whistleblower Roberto Jefferson, who was a federal deputy of the PTB party at the time.

The scandal first broke in May 2005 when the weekly newsmagazine Veja exposed a corruption scheme within the state-owned Correios, or post office. An official was filmed receiving wads of cash in order to award a contract to an undercover reporter posing as a businessman who claimed he had the backing of Jefferson.

Amid the outrage that followed, Jefferson revealed to the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper the existence of the mensalão. He claimed he personally had been paid US$2.25 million to vote in favor of government-sponsored legislation, and said that his party had been paid more than four times that amount by Lula’s party. The money to finance the scheme, he said, came from state-owned firms and private companies that had government contracts, and that the negotiations for the payments were held in a room right next to the office of Lula’s chief of staff himself, Jose Dirceu. (He denies any wrongdoing.)

Almost Impeached

The PT has insisted that Lula never knew of any payola scheme, but at least another figure very close to him was implicated: Duda Mendonça, a political consultant who worked on the president’s campaign, admitted in 2005 that he had received R$10.5 million from the PT in leftover, undeclared election funds which were deposited directly into a secret bank account overseas. He admitted to money laundering and tax evasion.

The president narrowly escaped impeachment after he went on national television in August 2005 and apologized for his party’s actions, while steering clear of admitting any knowledge.

The justice minister at the time, Marcio Thomaz Bastos, insisted that the money Mendonça was speaking of was in fact left over from the previous election and was being used by the PT to pay off the campaign debts of its various allied political parties. Incidentally, today he is a lawyer for one of the 38 accused, and many of the other defense attorneys at the trial got their start working in his practice.

The trial has polarized the country into two camps: those who support the PT and think the whole thing is a political witch-hunt, and those who believe that massive corruption and embezzlement of public funds did take place.

Animosity reached a fever pitch in May of this year when a Supreme Court justice, Gilmar Mendes, claimed that Lula had, at a private get-together at the house of former defense minister Nelson Jobim, pressured him to try and get the court to postpone the trial until at least 2013 because of municipal elections being held across Brazil this October. In exchange, Lula allegedly promised to offer Mendes protection from any involvement in another congressional and criminal probe of Carlinhos Cachoeira, the notorious head of an illegal gambling network, who is currently in prison. Lula and Jobim both denied the story.

But why is the trial at the Supreme Court? Under Brazilian law, only politicians have the privilege of being tried before the court without having to go through the lower courts first. And only three of the 38 defendants meet the standard. The other 35 have been added only because the Supreme Court itself voted to keep everybody together in a single trial.

A Key Weakness In The Prosecution  

The outcome of the trial is far from a foregone conclusion.

In his opening statement, the prosecutor general of Brazil, Roberto Gurgel, spoke for five hours. He said the main figure in the whole mensalão scheme was Dirceu, but that like any head of a criminal gang worth his salt, he had used other people to do his dirty work and left little trace of illegal acts that could be directly attributed to him. Gurgel based much of his conclusions on testimony from witnesses and on bank records that showed how  aides or close relatives of key politicians withdrew large amounts of money just before important votes in Congress. But a key weakness has been in following the money trail to show a clear connection between withdrawals and congressional votes.

“I don’t think that the evidence presented so far by Gurgel is that compelling,” said Mamede Said, a law professor at the University of Brasilia. “It is easy to find that certain crimes did occur, such as the use of undeclared campaign funds, the sending of money to overseas bank accounts, and shady loans to help pay off campaign debts. In this sense, I understand that several crimes were committed, such as money laundering and tax evasion, but whether or not they involved public funds remains to be proved.”

Valdir Pucci, a professor of political science at the University of Brasilia, disagrees. “From what I have seen so far, the prosecutor general really does have enough evidence to convict the defendants. There are many witnesses, as well as facts and evidence. As long as these are not heavily contested, then I believe that there is sufficient material so that the Supreme Court decides to convict them,” he said.

What Did The President Really Know?

In the meantime, Lula remains popular. During his two terms as president, the former trade union leader started programs to help Brazil’s vast masses of uneducated, poor workers.

Initiating a pseudo-socialist economy, he created new ministry called the Ministry of Social Development and Eradication of Hunger. One of his first decisions after taking office in 2003 was to institute the “Bolsa Familia” or family allowance, a program that paid subsidies for  food and cooking gas to poor families, as well as for education, on condition of mandatory school attendance. According to federal data, the program cost 2.5 percent of government expenditures in 2006; the World Bank has praised it, and The Economist called it a successful investment. He also took action against teenage pregnancy and hunger, and initiated a $300 bililon “Growth Acceleration Program” in which the government and private investors cooperate to build infrastructure.

Much of his support comes in fact from the lower classes, who do not regularly read newspapers or watch political news on television, according to Maria do Socorro Braga, a political science professor at the University of Sao Paulo.

“There is a great lack of information and disinterest in this issue among a large part of the population for various reasons, but especially because President Lula is very popular among the poorer sections of society,” she said.

But many analysts do not buy that Lula did not know what his subordinates were doing during in his first term in office. “From what we know of political practices in Brazil, it is very difficult to believe that the ex-president didn’t know of the scheme,” said Pucci, the political science professor, in an interview. “For the scheme to have functioned as well as it did, Lula must have given his consent.”

Click here to read it on the IBT website.

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.


Brasilia’s political circus/scandal continues

A view of the windows in the room where Jose Roberto Arruda is being held in at the Federal Police compound in Brasilia. Below, a view of his bunk beds and office desk.

THE political crisis in Brasilia continues with the Federal District Governor Jose Roberto Arruda still being held at the headquarters of the Federal Police, a month after he was accused of trying to obstruct an investigation into massive corruption in his administration.

The threat of federal intervention in the governing of the Federal District has eased for the time being, with the federal Supreme Court loath to intervene in a district that was given political emancipation only in 1988.


Last week the Federal District Assembly voted to begin impeachment proceedings against Arruda. If he does not resign before the process is over, which takes several months, he could see his political rights suspended for up to eight years. Last Saturday, two district representatives tried to serve Arruda with the notice of the impeachment proceedings, but he refused to receive it, later saying in a handwritten letter to the Federal District Assembly that he wanted access to the full report on his impeachment before accepting the notification. The representatives returned last Monday with two witnesses to corroborate that they had informed Arruda of the proceedings against him, and served him with the notice.

Arruda’s lawyers have been trying to get him moved to house arrest, something the Supreme Court justices have not been inclined to allow since this would facilitate his communication with supporters, and thus possibly make it easier for him to interfere in the Federal Police’s ongoing investigation into corruption in his administration.

The governor is currently allowed visits only from his immediate family and his lawyers. His wife Flavia brings him lunch everyday, although she is not allowed to be alone with him in his room. He is being held in a room of approximately 16.8 square meters in the Federal Police headquarters compound in Brasilia. He had previously been held in a room of 40 square meters. He has access to newspapers and magazines, but is not allowed access to television or telephones. His lawyers claimed that he was being held in a “masmorra”, or a subterranean jail, which forced the Attorney General’s office to release pictures last week of his quarters which showed the room had clean white walls, a bunk bed, an office desk, a small refrigerator, a little sofa and a window.

Arruda’s lawyers have also been claiming that the governor is suffering from pains in one of his ankles, which they claim is swollen and is linked to his diabetes. Two visits to a private hospital this week found Arruda in good health, taking away yet another reason his lawyers were trying to use to push for house arrest.

The three-time former governor of the Federal District, Joaquim Roriz, who is now 75 years old, has been running political ads on television showing himself talking casually about the “shame of corruption” that is currently rocking Brasilia. Roriz is expected to run in the October elections for governor again. He has been embroiled in several corruption scandals in the past, which make his criticisms of Arruda extra ironic. Will voters here remember that when they go to the polls in October? One can only hope so.

Brasilia in crisis as governor remains jailed

Jose Roberto Arruda, left, and Paulo Octavio in happier times.

THE capital of Brazil, Brasilia, remained in a deep political crisis this week with the Distrito Federal Governor Jose Roberto Arruda still being held by the federal police for obstruction of an investigation of massive corruption involving the governor and at least 11 district representatives.

Arrested on Feb. 11, at the beginning of Carnival, Arruda is being held at the headquarters of the Federal Police in Brasilia after he allegedly tried to bribe a local journalist to testify in his favor in the ongoing corruption investigation called “Pandora’s Box”.

The vice governor of the Federal District, the enormously wealthy and successful real estate tycoon Paulo Octavio, took over as acting governor when Arruda was arrested. But he too has been linked to the corruption scheme, and impeachment proceedings have been filed against him, as well as Arruda, by several district representatives.

Octavio found that he had little support in the DF legislature and after only 11 days in office decided to resign last week. After a hurried meeting with Brazilian President Luis Inacio “Lula” da Silva last week, he announced that he was holding off on resigning until this week, claiming that President Lula had asked him to wait a few more days. This was promptly denied by the presidential palace, which did not want the public to think that the president was supporting a politician under suspicion of corruption.

Arruda was arrested upon request of the Attorney General Roberto Gurgel, who has repeatedly warned that there could be federal intervention in the governance of the Federal District if the local government does not get its act together. If the federal government stepped in, they would need to appoint someone to manage the capital at least until October when national elections are scheduled to take place and a new slate of politicians can be voted into office. The problem here is that the leading candidate expected to win the governor’s race is Joaquim Roriz, a former three-time governor of the DF and federal senator, who had to resign from the Senate in 2007 in a corruption scandal in order to not have his political rights suspended for several years if he had been found guilty.

The Pandora’s Box investigation by the federal police came to public knowledge last year when hours of secretly filmed videotape was released by the police showing Arruda and several district representatives in different instances accepting large cash bribes and stuffing the money into their socks, underwear and handbags. The police claim these were regular kickbacks made over several years by businesses that had been given lucrative contracts with the Federal District government. These scenes caused a national outcry against such blatant greed and corruption when they were televised, although Arruda still maintains the payoffs were to fund the electoral campaigns of the politicians.

Durval Barbosa, a former official in the DF government, who was involved in all of the payoffs, secretly filmed them in a deal he made with the Federal Police to help them in their investigation. In return he has been promised a reduced sentence.

The Supreme Federal Court was originally scheduled to rule today on a habeus corpus motion by Arruda’s lawyers, but has postponed any decision until next week after Arruda’s lawyers asked for more time to study the original voting of the court which decided in favor of holding the governor. According to today’s Correio Braziliense newspaper, 13 of the 15 justices, who heard the original petition to have Arruda arrested, voted in favor of his arrest.

A district representative, Wilson Lima, is now the new acting governor of the Federal District. He was described by Octavio in an interview with the Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper yesterday as “a simple man”.

What remains to be seen is if Lima can stave off a federal intervention until the elections in October, and if Arruda, Octavio and the 11 district representatives will be tried in court for corruption. For too long disgraced politicians in Brazil have been able to cry on TV begging for forgiveness and then make a political comeback several years later as if nothing had happened. One can only hope that the memory of voters in the Federal District is not so short that they re-elect politicians that have proven in the past how rotten they really are.

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