Brazilian Judiciary emerges stronger after cash for votes corruption trials

Published on Tip News’s website, November 05, 2012.

Twenty five people have been found guilty earlier October 2012 by the Brazilian Federal Supreme Court (STF) in the trials of the accused of vote buying in the Brazilian Federal Congress. Amongst the defendants, there were some of Brazil’s top politicians, such as José Dirceu, President Lula’s chief of staff between 2003 and 2005, and José Genoíno, president of the Worker’s Party. The 11 judge’s members of the panel were in their majority appointed by President Lula, as was the General Prosecutor, responsible for pressing the charges.

According to the prosecution, the funds used for the illicit payments originated both from public as well as from private sources. The central handler of the illegal payments, Marcus Valerio, a banker working for the Workers’ Party, has already been sentenced to 40 years in jail, in addition to the payment of a substantial fine. The STF accepted the accusation to the effect that the funds were utilised to buy votes for matters inter alia dealing with gambling laws; the status of the president of the Central Bank of Brazil; minimum wage; tax bill; and social security reform.

Exhausted by corruption scandals, by the low ethical standards of politicians, their historic impunity and the proverbial inefficiency of the Judiciary power, Brazilian public opinion received very well the way in which the STF handled the proceedings at large and accompanied with keen interest via television, radio and written press the daily developments on the matter.

In an attempt to remove the moral high ground of the judicial decision by Brazil’s highest court, some of the sentenced criminals, such as José Dirceu and José Genoíno, accused the STF of promoting a political judgment in a kangaroo court, a lynching having absolute disregard for the due process of law. They also recall their historical efforts for democratisation in Brazil. Most legal observers disagree with this view, in the same way of the national public opinion.

In particular, the case of José Dirceu has attracted national opprobrium and he cannot appear in public without ruffians protecting him from the jeers of his countrymen. Dirceu had already lost his mandate of deputy in November 2005, having been found guilty of active corruption and criminal conspiracy by a vote of 293 to 192 in the Brazilian House of Deputies, for many of the same reasons as in the STF decision. As a result, he became unelectable until 2015.

Ousted from Congress, Dirceu promoted his activities as a lobbyist, using his substantial influence in government. There are signs that, even before he left his position of chief of staff, he may already have been representing economic interests diverse than the official policy of the country. This was specifically the case of the Free Trade Area of the America’s (FTAA) negotiations, accordingly to Wikileaks documents, when he proposed to US Ambassador John Danilovich an interest in breaking the current state of paralysis, which was rightly found intriguing by the American diplomat.

This stance by José Dirceu was, of course, more than intriguing, as President Lula was elected on a platform of opposition to the FTAA concept and the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Relations was negotiating with a view to neutralising the proposition, which was in fact subsequently buried. During the course of the diplomatic negotiations, José Dirceu exerted pressure on Brazil’s top negotiator, Ambassador Adhemar Bahadian, in favour of the FTAA initiative.

Out of Congress and government, Dirceu officialised his activities as a lobbyist, but not in the sense of representation of interests within the due process and letter of the law, but according to reports published domestically in Brazil, rather using his government influences with the objective of causing state actions in favour of his interests, outside of the rule of law and established democratic values. His style of activism brought him, at least putatively, within the grasp of other anti-corruption statutes in Brazil. His allegedly spurious actions were reportedly felt in several fields, including banking, construction, electricity, satellites, telephony, tourism and even football.

The sentencing of José Dirceu, the villainous gang leader, and his group of hardened criminals, represents undoubtedly a major event in the history of Brazil and a watershed not only in the ethical field for its politicians, but also for the credibility and self-pride of the judiciary. His resulting disbarment will certainly enhance the reputation of the Brazilian Bar.

It seems thus certain that the Brazilian graft trials will bear a greater impact in the future of the country than that, not altogether unsubstantial, of the Watergate trials in the United States of America.