José Roberto Arruda, the governor of Brasília, has spent the night in prison after surrendering to the Federal Police Thursday afternoon. Brazil’s Superior Court of Justice (STJ) ruled in favor of his detention and removal from office for attempted bribery.
The arrest of the governor, who was seen in videos giving bribes to people who hid bundles of cash in their underwear and socks, had been ordered in the morning by judge Fernando Gonçalves of the STJ.
Gonçalves during a meeting with the other 14 judges of the STJ recommended that Arruda be arrested and after a vote that court decided 12 to 2 to send the governor to jail.
They were acting on a request by Attorney General of the Republic, Roberto Gurgel, who had argued that the governor besides being engaged in a crime of bribery had also attempted to pressure witnesses who accused him in court.
Arruda belonged to the opposition conservative Democratic Party (DEM) but was forced to abandon the party after videos surfaced showing him in unlawful behavior.
Residents of Brasília celebrated the arrest of the governor in the streets. A small group carried photoshopped pictures of Arruda showing him dressed in prison uniform.
His arrest was also welcomed by lawmakers from his former party as well as from other parties. The former leader of the DEM, representative Ronaldo Caiado, who had worked diligently to expel Arruda from the party said that the Brazilian society was celebrating the decision: “It was a cleansing act in Brazilian politics.”
Senator Pedro Simon of the PMDB, from the Lula coalition, called the court’s decision “very important” and said he was hoping that the Supreme Court would not grant habeas corpus in favor of Arruda. “Who didn’t say that today begins the end of impunity in the country? For the first time, if the Supreme Court doesn’t interfere, we will see a politician in jail.”
Representative Rodrigo Rollemberg from the PSB said he was confident that the courts will resolve the crisis in the Federal District. “The decision of the Superior Court washes the soul of the Brazilian population.”
It was already late Thursday when the news came that Justice Marco Aurélio, from the Supreme Court, would not rule on the governor’s habeas corpus before Friday, dashing the Arruda’s hopes that he would spend just a couple of hours in jail.
He ended up having to spend the night in a room in the federal police station with a sofa but not a bed. He was spared a common jail cell for being a governor.
Arruda’s lawyer called the arrest of his client “unfair, illegal and unnecessary”.
His lawyers have free access to him at any time day or night, but his family, friend and advisor will be able to reach him only a few hours during the day.
Arruda is the first governor arrested by court order since the return of democracy to Brazil in 1985. According to the Brazilian constitution, governors can only be prosecuted with the consent of the Legislative Assembly, which is usually controlled by a coalition loyal to the governor.
Since 1989, when it was created, the STJ only once received authorization of the legislative to act. In 2005, Rondônia’s legislative assembly requested that court to indict governor Ivo Cassol, who was accused of fraud in government tender.
Soon after the STJ’ decision to arrest Arruda, the Federal Police’s director called Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva informing him that the governor had agreed to surrender. Lula asked then that the police treat the subject with great care and respect.
According to a source, the president said that no one is happy with what is happening and that we should not gloat over the misfortunes of others.
The Planalto Palace avoided talking about the possibility of government intervention in the Federal District. The Attorney General of the Republic, Luiz Fernando de Souza, asked the Supreme Court to determine intervention. If this happens Lula would be the one to choose the new governor.