Brazil’s top prosecutor has charged several former and current senators with receiving bribes and being part of a “criminal organization,” offering further evidence suggesting that Brazil’s elites were, at some level, operating as a criminal syndicate.
On September 8, Brazilian Attorney General Rodrigo Janot charged seven current and former senators of the governing Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro – PMDB) with accepting 864.5 million reais (around $280 million) in bribes paid by suppliers of the state-run oil company, Petroleo Brasileiro S.A. (Petrobras) and its subsidiary Transportes S.A. (Transpetro), according to the indictment.
The indictment names as suspects current senators Edison Lobão, Jader Barbalho, Renan Calheiros, Romero Jucá and Valdir Raupp; former senator and former president José Sarney; and former Transpetro president Sérgio Machado, also an ex-senator. In exchange for the bribes, the PMDB senators allegedly agreed to provide political support to the administration of former president Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva.
“In a stable, professionalized, preplanned way, with a defined structure and a sharing of tasks, they formed the political nucleus of a criminal organization structured to divert … public resources and obtain undue advantages,” the indictment states, further explaining that this “political nucleus” coordinated with an “economic nucleus” that also formed part of the overall criminal structure.
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Days earlier on September 5, Janot charged former presidents Lula and Dilma Rousseff, of the Workers’ Party (Partido do Trabalhadores – PT), along with several other high-level party officials with involvement in this “criminal organization.”
The accused senators issued varied responses to the allegations. Senator Calheiros said that Janot continues to fire more “flawed accusations,” while the attorney representing senators Jucá, Lobão and Sarney said he received the complaint “with perplexity,” Globo reported.
InSight Crime Analysis
The new charges seem to provide further evidence that some of Brazil’s political and economic elites were in fact operating a criminal structure. Although it was perhaps not very centralized, it was unquestionably massive and sophisticated, and many of the alleged participants continue to wield significant power today.
American University professor Matthew Taylor told InSight Crime that the alleged criminal structure must be looked at from both a legal and practical perspective.
“I think from a legal perspective this is a [criminal] organization,” Taylor told InSight Crime. “From a practical perspective, these political networks … are more hierarchical than many drug trafficking or other criminal organizations around the world.”
Taylor explained that one reason for this sustained hierarchy is the longevity of the political careers of many of those implicated.
“I can’t think of anybody in the PT [who was] charged who had fewer than 10 years on the national stage,” Taylor said. “People have been there a long time, and those charged in the PMDB go back even further.”
According to Taylor, the alleged criminal structure is “absolutely” hierarchical, and partly a consequence of the fact that these “criminal hierarchies … parallel political hierarchies.”
“[The] alleged wrongdoers remain politically active, able to change the way laws are written in Brazil, [and have the] potential to [still] engage in corrupt acts,” Taylor told InSight Crime.
Indeed, Brazilian elites including President Michel Temer himself have made various efforts to protect themselves from “Operation Car Wash” (“Operação Lava Jato”), the wide-ranging investigation that helped uncover the massive scale of systematized graft in South America’s biggest country.