Colluding Against Brazil’s Criminal Justice System? Good Luck.


The Minister of Justice, Eduardo Cardozo, resigned about a month ago, buffeted by pressures to reel-in the Federal Police. No one doubts what these pressures are about – the ferocious prosecution of the Car Wash (Lava Jato) investigation. Now the government is apparently looking to replace the director general of the Federal Police, who is administratively and financially beholden to the Minister of Justice. This ostensible ‘neutering’ of the Ministry of Justice and the Federal Police is a first political stab at bringing the Car Wash investigations to an end, which is something a large and powerful segment of the political establishment – both coalition and opposition parties – desire.

Never before in Brazil have large swaths of the political elite been so humiliated by revelations of graft. The Car Wash investigation has surpassed the mark of one hundred search-and-seizure warrants, implicating and jailing government politicians, private sector tycoons, as well as leaders of the opposition. The danger of having Lula in government is that he may be able to orchestrate a truce among major political players in return for making the Car Wash Scandal go away. Just as Lula’s PT government was responsible for a giant legislative vote-buying scheme (the Mensalão – see my and Carlos Pereira’s forthcoming article on the subject) that saw 28 public and private officials go to prison, so too may the collusive ethos of another de facto Lula government be able to bring the political elite together against further incriminations.

Fortunately for Brazil, the two other major powers involved, the judicial branch and the constitutionally autonomous public prosecutor’s office, appear to be relatively impervious to political exorcisms. Just yesterday, Supreme Court Justice Luiz Fux – a Rousseff appointee – denied an appeal by the Attorney General to remove an injunction against Lula’s assumption of the President’s Chief of Staff (Ministro da Casa Civil), the second most powerful post in government. Lula’s inability to gain ‘special standing’ privileges by assuming the Ministry diminishes his leverage and paves the way for the continuation of the Car Wash Scandal and the ultimate impeachment of Dilma Rousseff.

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