Brazil’s Supreme Court today allowed former aides of the ruling party to appeal sentences in a cash-for-votes scandal, further delaying the conclusion of the highest-profile corruption case during 28 years of democracy.
Celso De Mello today became the sixth justice in the 11-member high court to vote in favor of granting defendants the right to appeal if they obtained at least four votes against the convictions in November. Jose Dirceu, cabinet chief during former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s first term, was previously sentenced to almost 11 years in prison on criminal conspiracy and corruption charges for his role in masterminding the scheme, dubbed mensalao, meaning “big monthly payment” in Portuguese.
More than one million people demonstrated in June against corruption, poor public services and misallocation of public funds. The prospect of a drawn-out appeals process could lead the statute of limitations on some crimes to expire and sentences to be overturned after two new judges joined the court, frustrating protesters and renewing a sense of impunity in Latin America’s largest country, said Gil Castello Branco, founder of Open Accounts, a Brasilia-based watchdog of public spending.
“An appeal is a bucket of cold water for those who are fighting corruption in this country,” Castello Branco said in a telephone interview before the decision. “It reinforces widespread perception that justice is too slow to be effective.”
Brazilian prosecutors opened the probe into the mensalao in 2005 after one of the scheme’s operators went public, and the Supreme Court began its trial in August 2012. Lula himself has been neither incriminated nor charged in the mensalao scandal.
The world’s second-largest emerging market ranked 69th among 176 countries in Berlin-based Transparency International’s 2012 study of corruption perceptions, worse than Rwanda and Georgia.
Chief Justice Joaquim Barbosa has since become the institutional face of a crusade against impunity, with masks of his visage sold as Carnival costumes. As today’s ruling came down, about 30 protesters stood outside the Supreme Court, some wearing masks and holding signs denouncing corruption.
Barbosa is scheduled to make the official announcement on the court’s decision later today.
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