Brazil’s Politicians Feel the Heat as Carwash Investigation Closes In

  • Public prosecutor asks Supreme Court to open investigations
  • Local media say inquiries requested into 5 cabinet ministers

QuickTake: Brazil’s Corruption Probe

Brazil’s chief public prosecutor has requested investigations into at least five members of the cabinet, the heads of both houses of Congress and former Presidents Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, according to local media reports.

Three years into an epic corruption scandal, prosecutor Rodrigo Janot has handed the Supreme Court a list of dozens of politicians he suspects received bribes. Though the content of the list remains under judicial seal, O Folha de Sao Paulo and O Globo reported on Tuesday evening the names of a wide range of senior Brazilian politicians who are allegedly on the list.

Folha reported that Foreign Minister Aloysio Nunes Ferreira, Cities Minister Bruno Araujo, Science Minister Gilberto Kassab, Chief of Staff Eliseu Padilha and Presidency General Secretary Wellington Moreira Franco are on the list. Press officials for four of the ministers either declined to comment or didn’t respond immediately to requests for comment. Araujo’s press office said that donations he received from private companies were in accordance with electoral legislation.

Globo reported that House Speaker Rodrigo Maia and Senate President Eunicio Oliveira had also been named, along with senators Romero Juca, Aecio Neves, Jose Serra and Renan Calheiros.

Oliveira issued a statement saying that the Senate welcomes the investigation request with "absolute serenity and confidence in justice". Juca said that he supported all the investigations of Operation Carwash, and added that he was willing to offer any information necessary. Press officials for the others didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Lula and Rousseff have also been targeted, according to local media. Lula’s press office declined to comment while Rousseff’s lawyer Alberto Toron said he wouldn’t comment until officially notified.

The Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, or PMDB, said in a text message that it supports the Carwash probe and reiterated the need to reach the truth in the investigation. The party’s members include President Michel Temer, as well as Calheiros, Juca, Oliveira, Padilha and Moreira Franco.

Carwash Scandal

The request is the latest development in Operation Carwash, a sprawling investigation into corruption at the state-run oil company, Petrobras, that has landed dozens of the country’s top business elite in jail. To date, most of the politicians implicated in the scandal have not faced prosecution. Janot’s inquiry to the Supreme Court means that criminal proceedings are a step closer.

Probes can still take many months and possible trials may not produce a verdict before Temer’s term ends in December next year. Yet the probe, based largely on plea bargain testimony from executives at construction firm Odebrecht SA, has had politicians on edge for months. Last month Temer said he would temporarily remove any cabinet member under investigation and fire anyone found guilty in court.

The president has lost eight ministers during his nine months in power, with many leaving office following allegations of corruption. The publication of Janot’s list along with the Odebrecht testimony -- dubbed the "end of the world plea bargain" by local media -- may jeopardize yet further Temer’s reform agenda. After securing legislative approval for a public spending freeze, the government is now trying to rally support for pension reform.

A note issued by Eurasia Group on Tuesday evening said that the impact of the investigation was more likely to be felt in the 2018 elections, rather than on Temer’s reform agenda. However, it argued that if key ministers are forced to stand down, there are likely to be delays to the government’s plans.

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