Known as Operation Voucher, the August 9 Brazil’s Federal Police dragnet resulted in the arrests of at least 35 people connected to suspicious contracts by the Ministry of Tourism. The action caught Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff by surprise.
“We were preparing a presentation of a new government program when we got the news,” said Ideli Salvatti, minister of Institutional Relations,
Salvatti informed that the present minister of Tourism was not involved in the scandal as he took office after the period when the contracts were signed.
“We are waiting for a final report from the police. The government’s position is clear: anyone involved in wrongdoing should be punished,” she declared.
The leader of the PMDB (Party of Brazilian Democratic Movement) in the Senate, Renan Calheiros (from Alagoas state), put it this way: the party sees the police operation at the Ministry of Tourism as legitimate but, even though it does not have sufficient information, considers the number of people arrested strange.
“Although we do not know the extent of the operation, it does look like an exaggeration. They arrested 38 people because of a contract from 2009?” said Calheiros.
The concern in the PMDB is that the party is going to pay a price for something that happened when the PT was running the ministry. In 2009, the minister of Tourism was Luiz Barreto of the PT who substituted Marta Suplicy – also PT – when she left to run for the Senate.
After news of the arrests became public, members of the PMDB met with the minister of Institutional Relations, Ideli Salvatti, for explanations. Following the meeting, Calheiros reaffirmed that the party continues to support the Dilma Rousseff administration and the present minister Pedro Novaes of Tourism (who is from the PMDB). And Salvatti announced that the administration has total confidence in Novaes.
“Minister Novaes did not know about this. It happened in 2009 before he became minister. The PMDB is deeply concerned with the central question here, which is our support for the government,” declared Calheiros, who went on to say that the PMDB wants to avoid having denouncements of corruption aimed at specific political parties.
“We have nothing against anyone coming here to the Congress to clarify the facts. The PMDB is united and wants to have all the charges cleared up,” said Calheiros.
With regard to minister Wagner Rossi, at Agriculture, also from the PMDB, Calheiros said he had the support of the party, calling him one of the best ministers of Agriculture of all times. Calheiros promised that Rossi would be testifying about the charges of corruption at his ministry.
More than thirty people have been arrested accused of malversation at the Ministry of Tourism. According to the Federal Police, 19 people were detained and another 16 were imprisoned temporarily. Armed with search warrants, police confiscated documents and computers in offices and residences in various cities.
The police operation, which began in April, has been investigating contracts between the Ministry of Tourism and an NGO (Instituto Brasileiro de Desenvolvimento de Infraestrutura Sustentável – Ibrasi) during a period that ended around 2009.
One of the Tourism-Ibrasi contracts was worth 4.4 million reais (US$ 2.7 million), of which it is believed 3 million reais (US$ 1.84 million) were embezzled. The money originated in a congressional earmark by deputy Fátima Pelaes for training tour guides in the state of Amapá. There may have been other contracts with Ibrasi for a total of as much as 15 million reais (US$ 9.2 million).
Eleven arrests were made in São Paulo. At the home of the director of Ibrasi, police found 610,000 reais (US$ 374,000) in cash. In Brasília, where 17 people were arrested, the executive secretary of the Ministry of Tourism, the second-highest ranking person in the ministry, was detained. Another 7 people were arrested in Amapá.