RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil’s Supreme Court announced April 11 that corruption investigations have been ordered for eight ministers and dozens more top politicians in a sweeping decision that affects almost one third of President Michel Temer’s Cabinet and many of his top allies.
In total, 108 people will be investigated following Justice Edson Fachin's ruling, which was itself the product of more than 74 probes involving plea bargain deals and testimony from former and current executives with Odebrecht, a construction giant at the centre of a bribes-for-contracts scandal.
The list of the names was published by Brazil's top court website April 11. The targets include Presidential Chief of Staff Eliseu Padilha, Lower House speaker Rodrigo Maia, Senate president Eunicio Oliveira, and the ministers of foreign affairs, agriculture and trade, among others. Also being investigated are the heads of the two major parties in Temer's coalition.
The investigations will bring "a tsunami" to Brazilian politics, said Claudio Couto, a political science professor at Fundacao Getulio Vargas, a Sao Paulo-based university and think-tank.
"Every party and every state has someone there. Top congressional leaders of both houses are involved. This is proof that corruption in Brazil is systemic and there is a huge potential for this to disorganize the whole administration as of tomorrow," Couto told the Associated Press.
The politicians have all denied any wrongdoing. Temer has temporary immunity from prosecution because Brazilian presidents can only be charged for crimes they committed during their term in office.
After authorizing the investigations, Brazil's attorney-general will proceed with them and later decide whether the accused should stand trial. Temer said recently that any ministers standing trial should step down from their Cabinet posts.
The judge's decision comes as Brazil's president fights to survive an electoral court trial that could remove him from office for illegal campaign financing. He is also trying to pass tough austerity measures and reforms through Congress. All this while polls show his approval rating plunging to as low as 10 per cent.
As soon as the list came out, lawmakers left Brazil's Congress and avoided reporters; a key vote to help financially strapped state governments was cancelled.
The head of Brazil's bar association celebrated the Supreme Court's announcement, but warned against considering all the accused guilty from the start.
"These plea bargains include statements from people who pleaded guilty and offered to help authorities. It is still necessary to verify the authenticity of their statements," Claudio Lamachia said.
Brazil's Supreme Court investigates politicians who hold office because of its special jurisdiction and is often slower than lower courts that go after senior figures.
Justice Fachin also sent 201 investigations to lower courts for judges there to decide whether the investigations should proceed. In that list, he included three former Brazilian presidents: Dilma Rousseff, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Fernando Henrique Cardoso. The accusations against them have also not been released.
Fachin also decided that nine state governors would have their investigations analyzed by another court, including Sao Paulo governor and presidential hopeful Geraldo Alckmin.
Odebrecht and state oil giant Petrobras are at the centre of a wide-ranging investigation involving kickbacks and inflated contracts at state companies. The probe has ensnared dozens of high-level politicians and executives, and has grown into the biggest graft investigation in the country's history. Prosecutors have relied heavily on plea bargains with defendants to make cases against others.
The scandal has even become a regional issue, with justice systems in other countries accusing local officials of taking bribes from the construction giant. Odebrecht has acknowledged paying almost $800 million in bribes across Latin America.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS