Brazil’s Senate Ethics Committee has voted to remove a legislator from office for his alleged ties to a gambling kingpin, amid a broader investigation which hints at corruption at the highest levels of power in the country.
The 16-person Senate Ethics Committee unanimously voted Tuesday to expel Demostenes Torres (see picture) of Goias state, formerly of the Democratas party, following allegations of the senator’s links to suspected gambling kingpin Carlos Augusto Ramos. Ramos, alias “Carlinhos Cachoeira,” or “Charlie Waterfall” in English, was arrested in late February by Brazil’s Federal Police.
Police wiretaps show that Torres had dealings with Cachoeira in 2012 and 2009. In the recordings, Torres asks Cachoeira for money, and warns him of police interest in his criminal operations. Brazil’s top prosecutor alleges Torres received about $1.7 million from Cachoeira.
In addition to Torres, Cachoeira has been linked to three federal deputies and the governors of Brasilia and the state of Goias.
Cachoeira is accused of running an gambling racket worth as much as $15 million, filtered through 59 companies, 38 of which were active until last year, as Brazilian news site Band reported based on information from a source close to the investigation. Interestingly, he is being represented by Marcio Thomaz Bastos, who served as former president Lula’s Justice Minister from 2003 to 2007.
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The senate’s move to expel Torres is the latest blow against the mighty Cachoeira. The alleged gambling boss, referred to by Bloomberg as “the Michael Corleone of Brazil,” became an illicit power broker through his stewardship of an “animal game” network, and his vast political connections reveal the continuing influence of the illicit — but often tolerated — lottery.
Cachoeira has powerful friends in business as well as politics. Delta, a large construction company and key player in Rio de Janeiro politics, apparently used Cachoeira as a conduit to gain access to a network of public servants and politicians to help it win lucrative development contracts. Fernando Cavendish, former Delta owner and manager and close friend to Rio governor Sergio Cabral, stepped down following the release of the Cachoeira wiretaps. Lawmakers are considering an investigation of Cabral’s possible links to the corruption scandal.
Delta has already walked away from a high-profile contract in Rio, but it still plays a major role in the city’s urban renewal, and its alleged connections to Cachoeira show the complex relationship between Brazilian politics and crime. As Rio prepares for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, spending millions on ambitious police occupations, many of which are supplanting organized crime, and infrastructure projects, a boon for developers like Delta, the accused gambling kingpin Cachoeira represents a link between big business, crime, and politics. As such, the coming revelations of his case may have serious implications for Rio as well as for Brazil.
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