Long Last the Legal Legacy of Rousseff


Political scientist Carlos Pereira and I have been patiently waiting for our article on the Mensalão corruption scandal to come out in the Journal of Latin American Studies. I am particularly anxious because we establish the contours of an argument surrounding the accountability and transparency advances made during the Rousseff administration. This argument follows in the footsteps of work detailing Brazil’s incremental accountability gains undertaken by American University Professor Matt Taylor and FGV-CPDOC Professor, Sergio Praça.

“But Wait,”

“But wait,” you say, “more corruption has been revealed during the current administration than in all others combined”. That is precisely our point; without measures introduced or tacitly approved by Rousseff’s government or her (once upon a time) majority coalition, we would not be witnessing revelations of massive graft. How massive? Concerning the Car Wash (Lava Jato) investigations, the Federal Police now estimate $42 billion reais (~US$13 billion dollars). What’s more, 179 people have been formally accused of involvement (most of the political establishment), and yesterday Judge Sérgio Moro sent a list of more than 190 ‘payments’ made to politicians all over Brazil by Odebrecht, the country’s largest construction and engineering company.

In short, much of Brazil’s political class is becoming ensnared in criminal proceedings, even as they struggle to nail Rousseff to the cross of impeachment (or, in the case of the PT and her allies, pull her off). Whoever takes Rousseff’s place may vie to disassemble much of the legal apparatus she tacitly built up. Among elements of this apparatus that Carlos Pereira and I highlight in our article:

  • The Access to Public Information Law 12.527 (2012) – the bedrock transparency regulation for all powers and levels of government. Brazil was one of the last countries in Latin America to approve this measure, but the law is expansive.
  • The Anti-Corruption Law 12.846 (2013) – establishes punishments for companies and individuals involved in corruption and provides for expansive plea bargaining provisions.
  • The Law on Criminal Organizations 12.850 (2013) – establishes an encompassing definition for what constitutes a criminal organization, sets out punishments, and provides for expansive plea bargaining provisions.

As my last blog post pointed out, it is these last two laws that have transformed a landscape of political impunity into one of diminishing returns for the corrupt.

But Wait!

But wait! The Public Prosecutor is just about to bring 10 new pieces of legislation – endorsed by a popular initiative with over 2 million signatures – to further enhance accountability. An executive summary of these measures is available here, and I’ll list their approximate objectives* here just for link-less reading:

  1. Transparency of disciplinary & accountability measures to be promoted in the judiciary and public prosecutor’s office.
  2. Legalize and promote ‘field-based integrity tests’ for public servants to root out would-be malfeasants.
  3. Obligate public expenditures on anti-corruption and transparency advertising and promotion.
  4. Whistle-blower protection to ensure secrecy for those who denounce.
  5. Criminalization of unexplainable illicit enrichment.
  6. Classification of corruption as a heinous crime, to increase punishment severity.
  7. Increased processing efficiency for appeals relating to white-collar crime.
  8. Limit a judge’s ability to suspend a case indefinitely because of a petition to examine the case (pedido de vista).
  9. Limit provisions for appeals and writs of habeas corpus during political trials.
  10. Eliminate the possibility that punishments be suspended due to extraordinary appeals.

*The English executive summary of these laws seems to differ substantially from the Portuguese list of laws, which is contained within a PDF.

For an excellent article in a similar vein, see America’s Quarterly’s Brian Winter and his take on the president, “A Final Defense of Dilma Rousseff”.

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