“Whoever steals little is a thief, who steals a lot is a baron,” said some verses that triumphed in Brazil during the empire. The protagonist, one of the most corrupt at court, was a baron and later a viscount. Two centuries later, Operation Lava Jato put a stop to the traditional impunity of the powerful thanks to an ambitious judge and prosecutors, once compared to the untouchables of Elliot Ness, who caught Al Capone. They operated from Curitiba, a capital in the interior, far from the centers of power.
The Attorney General’s Office dissolved this Monday the unit, made up of nine prosecutors, dedicated exclusively to investigating the case from Curitiba. In the best times there were 14. The decision, apparently bureaucratic and known this Wednesday, closes an era of Lava Jato. The investigations began seven years ago in an anodyne way in a car wash where money was laundered, hence the bribes that Petrobras paid politicians but acquired an astonishing development with international ramifications. His tentacles in the Mexican oil company Pemex are now the hottest news, but before he put Lula da Silva and the presidents of Peru, Panama and El Salvador in jail, motivated the suicide of a fifth president, altered the political map of the region and issued the largest fine in history to a company for paying bribes.
The brand that galvanized satiety with corruption, filled the streets with outrage and promoted the electoral victory of Jair Bolsonaro after Lula was disqualified for being convicted of corruption, dies in Brazil. The impact of the revelations on the rest of the continent was also and is enormous, in Peru, in Mexico, Colombia… Powerful politicians and businessmen entered jail as the investigators were pulling the strings of the skein. Criticism of excesses on the part of the researchers intensified, and in the case of Brazil, significant suspicions of political bias.
The last hour of Lava Jato indicates that the former director of Pemex Emilio Lozoya received bribes from the Spanish construction company OHL in exchange for public contracts during the Government of Enrique Peña Nieto. They are the most recent members of a swollen club of powerful – suspicious, some, condemned others – who believed themselves untouchable for decades.
In addition to Lula, Presidents Alejandro Toledo (Peru), Ricardo Martinelli (Panama) and Mauricio Funes (El Salvador) spent time behind bars. Peruvian Alan García shot himself when he was about to be arrested. Curitiba prosecutors achieved almost 300 arrests, 278 convictions and recovered 4.3 billion reais (660 million euros) for the Brazilian treasury. The Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, which had a department for bites, paid a fine of 3.5 billion dollars in the United States.
Curitiba is also the city where Lula was imprisoned for 19 months after being convicted by Judge Sergio Moro, whose name was associated with Lava Jato. Become a national hero, he was Bolsonaro’s minister. Four of the nine prosecutors will continue with the case for now, diluted in a team against organized crime.
The decision was coming. The president announced it with all the letters four months ago: “I don’t want to end Lava Jato. I have already finished with Lava Jato because there is no corruption in my government, ”he proclaimed in a speech applauded by those present. By then, Moro had left the government and investigators were tightening the siege around members of the Bolsonaro clan suspected of corruption. The populist president paved the way with the appointment of a related attorney general who has now struck the case.
“There is a political interest in weakening Lava Jato. The weaker the inspection bodies, the more the suspects celebrate it, ”says prosecutor Roberto Livianu, president of the Não Aceito Corrupção Institute, an association, by phone. “Prosecutors who have been relocated have verve and ethical principles, but they do not have supernatural powers when their workload is inhumane,” he adds.
The final blow comes at a key moment. Bolsonaro has forgotten his fiery speech against old politics and corruption to distribute millions of public coffers to a handful of parties without ideology known to sell their parliamentary support in exchange for budget positions. With those allies at the helm of Congress, he hopes to bury the ghost of the impeachment.
Dissatisfaction over alleged abuses by investigators joined has added to a kind of sudden amnesia. Because this blow to Lava Jato was received with notable indifference in Brazil, although its revelations were central to Bolsonaro’s campaign and before, in the dismissal of Dilma Rousseff, from the Workers’ Party. As a journalist tweeted, “There is no one on the street, nor is he among the TT (trending topics). What thing”. However, despite the obvious political effects of the mega-scandal, Brazilians’ perception of corruption has changed very little. In these seven years, it has dropped five points in the Transparency International ranking to 94th out of 180 countries, tied with Peru and well ahead of Mexico, at 124.
As Livianu, from Não Aceito Corrupcão, emphasizes, the scourge affects every citizen because those funds stop financing health, education, coronavirus vaccines, sanitation or security. A direct attack on public policy.
Meanwhile, Moro has problems of his own. He has had to reinvent himself because he cannot return to the judiciary since he passed through the Government. And there is the suspicion of a lack of impartiality, due to the content of the messages he exchanged with prosecutors during the investigation into Lula, as revealed by The Intercept, EL PAÍS Brasil and other media. The Supreme Court, which on Monday lifted the secret of a new batch of messages, must decide on Lula’s lawsuit against Moro; This requests his expulsion from the race and the cancellation of the sentence. A delicate judicial decision. It will affect the political future of the hero and villain of Lava Jato.