The government of Brazil has reduced funding for a police task force investigating a massive corruption scandal that recently implicated the country's president, highlighting ongoing efforts by Brazilian elites to derail wide-ranging anti-graft operations.
The administration of President Michel Temer has cut both funding and staffing for the police task force mounting a massive anti-corruption investigation known as "Operation Car Wash" ("Operação Lava Jato"), reported Estadão.
The cuts reduced the size of the task force from nine people to just four, and withheld 44 percent of the unit's funding in the planned budget for 2017, the news outlet reported.
Temer is currently the subject of massive controversy and an official investigation following the recent publication of audio recordings appearing to show him encouraging a businessman to engage in bribery.
This is reportedly the first time that the staff of the special Car Wash task force has been cut since the operation began in March 2014.
The task force has helped to reveal the expansive nature of corruption in Brazil, shining light on widespread graft involving both the state-owned oil giant Petrobras as well as the country's largest construction company, Odebrecht, as well as other firms.
A number of prominent politicians and businessmen have already been arrested in connection to the scandal, and many others in addition to Temer are under investigation for their potential involvement, including Brazil's last five presidents.
InSight Crime Analysis
In addition to the fact that the president himself has apparently been caught on tape encouraging exactly the type of activities that the Car Wash task force has been investigating, the Temer administration's decision to cut funding for the special police unit provides further evidence that elements of Brazil's political elite are attempting to sabotage the anti-graft investigations.
Operation Car Wash prosecutors based in Curitiba, Brasília and Rio de Janeiro told Estadão that the budget cuts are a way for the Temer administration to directly interfere in the investigations. A member of the Curitiba task force who spoke under condition of anonymity went as far as to claim the cuts "will be the end" of Operation Car Wash.
These concerns were echoed by Eduardo Sobral, president of the Federal Police Officers Association (Associação dos Delegados da Polícia Federal – ADPF), who said, "Budget cuts have always felt like a sword on our necks, which the government can use whenever they want, to paralyze our activities because of our lack of financial autonomy."
SEE ALSO: Brazil News and Profiles
This is far from the first time that Brazil's political elites seem to have plotted to derail the Car Wash investigations. Separate audiotapes obtained and published last year by Folha de São Paulo appeared to show a powerful politician with close ties to Temer discussing with a prominent businessman how to use the impeachment proceedings against then-President Dilma Rousseff as a way to "stop the bleeding" from the anti-graft investigations. (Rousseff was eventually impeached and removed from office for reasons that were not related to corruption or the Car Wash scandal.)
Additionally, the Brazilian Congress -- more than a third of whom have been implicated in the most recent corruption allegations -- has previously attempted to pass legislation to shield themselves from graft charges. And as InSight Crime previously reported, analysts say it is likely that legislators will band together in similar future efforts that could impact the progress of the anti-corruption investigations.