Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Dilma and Lula implicated in Operação Lava Jato (May 4, 2016)

Brazilian prosecutor general, Rodrigo Janot, asked the country's Supreme Court for permission to investigate President Dilma Rousseff for attempting to obstruct a wide-ranging investigation into corruption at state oil company Petrobras, reports Reuters, based on local media reports from last night.

It would be the first time that Rousseff would be directly implicated in Brazil's biggest-ever graft case, notes Reuters. Justice Teori Zavascki must now decide whether to open up an investigation against her, though there is no timeframe for that deliberation, reports El País. There has been no official confirmation yet of the request for investigation, according to the BBC. The case is proceeding in secret at the supreme court and the federal prosecutors’ office would not confirm the charge, according to Reuters.

She will likely be suspended next week by the Senate, which will vote on opening up a trial against her for unrelated accusations of budgetary manipulation.

Janot's actions put Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva at the center of the case. He also requested yesterday that the court make the former president a defendant based on accusations that he attempted to buy the silence of the company's former director Nestor Cervero, reports El País.

The requests were based on information revealed in a plea-bargain agreement with Sen.Delcídio do Amaral, an ally of da Silva and Rousseff who was arrested late last year for trying to obstruct the investigation, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Janot's request places da Silva in a key role in the corruption scandal. Janot said the corruption could not have taken place without the participation of the former leader, reports the BBC. Though he had previously been accused of getting real estate under favorable connections, in relation to the case, the new accusations are far more serious, according to the piece. Janot "said Lula and other senior politicians conspired to create a scheme that siphoned off vast amounts of money from Petrobras."

Social Communications Minister Edinho Silva, Political Affairs Minister Ricardo Berzoini and Jaques Wagner, who heads Rousseff's office are also on the list, reports the Associated Press. Brazilian media reported that Janot is also targeting top officials in the opposition PMDB party, according to the AP.
Janot also asked the Supreme Court to investigate the president of the lower house of Brazil’s Congress, Eduardo Cunha, notes the WSJ.

But federal investigators said Vice President Michel Temer will not face an investigation over testimony implicating him in the colossal Petrobras graft scandal. Janot, said accusations against him were not substantial enough to merit an inquiry, an important boost for Temer's standing as he maneuvers to replace Rousseff, reports the New York Times. Testimony from do Amaral linked Temer to two executives who have since been sentenced to prison on charges including fraud and bribery.

Temer's rise to power will mean a likely rightward swing for Brazil's policies, reports Vice News.

"Beyond economics, there is much speculation in Brazil that some legislators have given their support to impeachment in exchange for protection from the massive Lava Jato, or Car Wash, anti-corruption probe centered on kickbacks involving the state-run oil company Petrobras.

"So far the Lava Jato probe has led to 318 of the 594 members of the lower house being investigated for serious crimes or even facing charges. The same is true of 49 of the 81 senate members."

Polarization over the case is splitting Brazilians between those who see a threat to democracy and those who say they're saving it. The latest: filmmaker, journalist and research professor Anita Leandro has removed her film from a festival that invited former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso to participate in a conference on the evolution of institutional democracy, reports Brasil 247. She explained in an open letter that she found the participation of his PSDB in the "legally baseless" impeachment process made the forum unacceptable for showing her film which denounces unpunished crimes of the military dictatorship.

News Briefs
  • A Brazilian judge ordered a ban on the Whatsapp messaging service, and another overturned it 24 hours later, restoring service to the millions of Brazilians who use the application, reports the Wall Street Journal. Roughly half of Brazil’s 200 million people use WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, notes the Los Angeles Times. The move is the latest in a series of clashes between the service and the Brazilian government over demands to access data for criminal investigations. Earlier this year a a Facebook executive was arrested for about 24 hours in connection to investigator demands for access to WhatsApp messages. (See March 2's briefs.) Last year the messaging service was also shut down temporarily by a judge over a similar issue. (See briefs for Dec. 18, 2015.) WhatsApp says it doesn’t store users’ messages and thus cannot share what it doesn't have. (See a piece in last Thursday's briefs on Igarapé Institute's Robert Muggah and Nathan Thompson arguments regarding the increasing encroachment of civil liberties in Brazil as part of criminal investigations. "On one side are multinational tech companies aligned with civil liberties groups who are defending open expression and rights to privacy. On the other are Brazil’s justice and law enforcement authorities and politicians seeking to expand the state’s surveillance and investigative capabilities," they write.) 
  • Salvadoran arrest warrants have been issued or 21 people tied to a 2012 gang treaty credited with a drastic, albeit temporary, dip in the country's infamously high homicide rate, reports the Associated Press. Yesterday, authorities arrested former congressman Raul Mijango, who brokered the truce, reports Reuters. The former guerrilla commander and lawmaker with the ruling FMLN, was arrested on allegations of bringing banned objects into prisons and being an associate of gang members, according to police statements.
  • El Salvador's government and gangs are disputing credit for a drop in homicides last month, reports El Faro. Murders in April were down 47 percent from the monthly average for the Jan-March period of this year. While the government argues that the drastic improvement is due to a crackdown on gangs, gang leaders say it's due to a decision to "suspend offensive actions." (See March 31's post.)
  • Haiti's interim leader, Jocelerme Privert, seems increasingly comfortable in his presidential role, and few in the country actually expect to be voting anytime soon, despite an caretaker government agreement that stipulates a power handover next week, reports the Associated Press. Privert got off to a slow start, and just appointed a commission to verify contested elections held last year. He is now suggesting that the postponed presidential run-off be held in October, along with an already scheduled election for a third of the Senate's seats. "We can't go to the polls without first restoring confidence in the process," said Privert. (See last Friday's post.)
  • The many contradictions of Cuba's reinsertion into world diplomacy and economy were emphasized yesterday during the premiere of French fashion house Chanel's 2016/2017 "cruise" line. A runway show on Havana's Prado boulevard, attended by international celebrities as police held back Cuban spectators, "offered a startling sight in a country officially dedicated to social equality and the rejection of material wealth," reports the Associated Press.  The show highlighted the island's new place in the international community, but also the new inequalities in Cuba, reports Reuters. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Soda sales are rising in Mexico, despite a tax on sugary beverages imposed a couple of years ago, reports the Wall Street Journal. The industry is proving resilient after an initial drop, making the country a key-growth market again for soda giants Coca Cola and Pepsi, according to the piece. (Earlier studies pointed to the success of the policy, see for example Jan. 8's briefs.)
  • Chilean fishermen are protesting what they call insufficient government efforts to mitigate the economic effects of a harmful algal bloom, reports Reuters. The southern-central region of Los Lagos has been plagued by the biggest "red tide" in its history for the past four weeks.
  • Argentine sports station TyC Sports did an advert splicing together Donald Trump's promise to build a wall to keep out migrants with highlights of the country's soccer team and fans to hype the upcoming Copa America tournament, which will be held for the first time in the United States, reports the New York Times. Conclusion: "The truth is, the best they can do is not let us in.

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