Fernanda Santini, an elementary school teacher in Sao Paulo, seemed to sum up the feelings of many Brazilians when a Supreme Court justice this week released a list of politicians being investigated on corruption allegations.
Rumors of who was on the list had circulated for some time, and when it finally came out, scores of officials were named, including eight Cabinet ministers.
“It’s about time they were all named,” Santini said with satisfaction Wednesday. “It’s not like we all didn’t know who would — or at least should — be investigated, but it makes you smile to think that what they’ve done could all catch up to them now.”
Residents of Sao Paulo celebrated the release of the list Tuesday by banging on pots and pans, an act that has become symbolic in Brazil of protesting against political corruption since the arrest and jailing of many government leaders in the seemingly never-ending fallout from the investigation code-named “Lava Jato,” or Car Wash.
Satirical Brazilian website Sensacionalista even published a list of 15 politicians on the list who had previously attended anti-corruption protests.
The list, the subject of leaks and much speculation, was made public when Justice Luiz Edson Fachin removed the seal on plea-bargain testimony from executives of the construction company Odebrecht, whose former chief executive, Marcelo Odebrecht, is serving a 19-year prison sentence for his involvement in paying millions of dollars in bribes as part of a graft scheme.
Federal prosecutors will open new inquiries into eight ministers in President Michel Temer’s Cabinet, as well as 24 senators and 39 lawmakers in the lower house of Congress.
Among those on the “Fachin list,” as it is being called, are Temer’s chief of staff, Eliseu Padilha, and Foreign Minister Aloysio Nunes Ferreira. Members of the Brazilian Congress have been implicated too, including the president of the lower house, Rodrigo Maia, as well as former Senate President Renan Calheiros and his replacement, Eunicio Oliveira.
Temer’s name was also mentioned in evidence and transcriptions related to investigations into some of his top allies, according to Fachin’s ruling. The president, however, has temporary immunity, which prevents a sitting president from being investigated for acts that occurred outside his current mandate.
Brazilians are becoming accustomed to seeing presidents in legal hot water. Temer’s predecessor, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached last fall for breaking budgetary rules by shifting around funds to cover short-term deficits. She wasn’t accused of corruption, nor was she a target of Lava Jato, but her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, was. He faces corruption charges in connection with alleged bribes from Oderbrecht.
While some see the list’s release as a victory, other Brazilians say it’s likely just another step in a long, long road.
“Just because they’re on that list doesn’t mean anything will actually happen to them,” said Jairo Peres, a street vendor in São Paulo. “It’s good that they have the shame of being investigated, but they’ll find a way to stay right where they are, spending all our money.”
Once federal prosecutors wrap up their investigations into each politician on the list, their findings will be brought back to the Supreme Court, which will decide whether the officials will be charged with crimes such as corruption and money laundering.
Despite the fact that nearly a third of his Cabinet and a third of the Senate are named on the Fachin list, Temer said the accusations would not slow down the work of the federal government.
“We absolutely cannot paralyze legislative activity,” he said Thursday. “We have to continue with government [work], and legislative and judicial activity.”
The new inquiries have come at a delicate time for Temer, who is trying to obtain approval of controversial pension reform proposals that the government considers its only way out of severe pension system debt and, in turn, would provide a return to confidence in the country’s economy. Last year alone, Brazil registered a pension deficit of $67 billion in the 12 months through November.
Brazilians, however, are not pleased with the plan to set a minimum retirement age of 65 after the country has gone so many years without setting a bar at all.
“I’ve been working since I was 14 years old, and now they tell me I’ll have to wait until I’m 65 to retire and get my measly pension? It’s absurd,” said Antonia Ferreira, who works at a clothing store in São Paulo. “Maybe if [politicians] stopped lining their pockets with our money, we wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place. They should start paying us taxes. Or maybe I’ll just run for office next year.”
Langlois is a special correspondent.