SAO PAULO, Brazil -- In the latest crackdown on corruption since protests exploded across the country in June, Brazilian police Thursday arrested four police officers and 15 others in a public pension scandal involving at least $135 million.
Federal police allege that public money in the pension scandal was diverted into built-to-fail investments and then routed through fictitious companies to pay off the participants in the scam and the police, which provided protection.
In the last 18 months, $135 million was taken out of money-laundering companies by “oranges,” Brazilian Portuguese slang for people used to receive ill-begotten cash.
“The ‘oranges’ would withdraw the money from the companies. Except the companies were fake,” a federal police spokeswoman said.
Orange was also the color of a Lamborghini sports car seized in the investigation, in addition to a yacht and flashy lime-green Hummer, according to news photos and reports.
Ten people are still wanted on suspicion of money laundering and misuse of public resources involving city funds in 10 states around the country, the federal police said.
In addition to poor public services and police abuses, corruption and misuse of taxpayer money were main drivers of the protests that brought more than a million people onto the streets in June and have continued in smaller bursts since.
A number of corruption cases have emerged and a member of Congress was sent to jail, for corruption and embezzlement, for the first time under Brazil’s current constitution, as the government seeks to position itself as staunchly anti-corruption.
Siemens and other international companies are under investigation on suspicion of forming a cartel to fix the prices of train and subway contracts from 1990 to 1997.
In an unrelated case, Brazil’s Supreme Court voted Wednesday to allow a new round of appeals for high-level politicians from the ruling Workers’ Party convicted in a scandal involving a vote-buying scheme from a decade ago.
No one has been jailed in the so-called mensalão scandal, which refers to big monthly payments laid out to lawmakers, since it emerged in 2005, and a small number of people protested the court’s decision Wednesday, demanding immediate sentencing.