Popular Brazil Crime Buster Himself Snagged in Graft Scandal

  • "Japenese Fed" found guilty of facilitating smuggling
  • Ishii had arrested high-profile executives and politicians

Federal police officer Newton Ishii was the face of Brazil’s desire to thwart corruption, with Carnival revelers celebrating his arrests of high-profile executives and politicians. Now he faces jail time himself.

Over the past two years, Brazilians often awoke to dawn newscasts of federal police raiding offices and arresting top executives accused of paying kickbacks in a sweeping corruption probe, known as Carwash. Ishii, outfitted in all-black police gear and black-frame sunglasses, was their ubiquitous escort.

Newton Ishii

Photographer: Hedeson Alves/Handout via EPA

On Tuesday afternoon, police arrested Ishii based on a 2003 court ruling that found him guilty of facilitating contraband goods into Brazil from Paraguay, a police spokesman confirmed on Wednesday. The arrest happened in the southern city of Curitiba, the seat of Judge Sergio Moro, who spearheaded the two-year anti-corruption drive that has rocked the country’s establishment.

The news set Brazil social media ablaze, and came as a shock even in a nation where impunity has long been seen as the norm, and where politicians have been caught in the past with bribes stuffed in their socks and even underwear.

Following his arrest, the “Japanese Fed” as Ishii is known, quickly began trending on Twitter, with one photo-shopped image showing him in his combat uniform, badge hanging around his neck, hauling a version of himself in a suit off to jail.

Ishii had already served part of the four years he was sentenced to in 2003, Globo’s online news service reported. His appeal has been pending ever since.

The federal police’s press office declined to provide additional information, and his lawyer was unavailable for comment.

Ishii had become a towering symbol of the anti-corruption push, a sign of hope that authorities were cleaning up the country. A giant carnival dummy and masks were likened after him and he became the subject of a Carnival ballad.

"Now I’ll be be famous, appearing next to the Japanese Fed," Marcelo Odebrecht, head of the largest construction company said when he was arrested in November, according to Extra newspaper.