The Brazilian House of Representatives, by a secret vote of 265 to 166 with 20 abstentions, decided to dismiss a charge of misconduct against Representative Jaqueline Roriz, who could have lost her seat in Congress if the motion had been approved.
Ms Roriz is the daughter of a politician who faced his own corruption case in 2007 and decided to resign his seat in the Senate rather than face forfeiture of office.
The case against Jaqueline Roriz was based on a videotape showing her and her husband receiving stacks of money from Durval Barbosa, an official in the Brasília (Distrito Federal – DF) administration.
According to Barbosa, who later turned state witness in a huge DF corruption case known as Pandora’s Box, the money he gave Jaqueline was a payoff for political support and it came from illegal overbilling of government contracts.
The videotape was made in 2006. Jaqueline Roriz was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 2010. The videotape became public in March of this year.
The argument in favor of expelling her claimed the film of her receiving stacks of money stained the image of the Chamber of Deputies and as such was a breach of decorum.
The Roriz defense argument was the same as that used in similar cases by elected officials that has turned elective office in Brazil into a safe haven for politicians with legal problems. The argument is that one cannot be expelled from one political forum for activities outside that political forum.
For example, the case of the vice mayor of Campinas recently reported. The vice mayor took office when the mayor was expelled for corruption. The City Council quickly found that the vice mayor had been involved in the same illegal activities as the mayor and moved to expel him as well.
But he presented the following defense: he could not be removed as mayor by a council that only had jurisdiction to remove a mayor because what he did he did before he became mayor. The case went to court and the judge accepted the argument.
Ms Roriz said she could not be deprived of her seat in the Chamber of Deputies in a suit questioning her decorum as a deputy because the activities in question took place before she became a deputy. Her peers in the legislature, many of them with similar problems, in a secret vote, decided to keep her (and themselves) safe.
There’s more. The nation’s chief prosecutor (procurador-geral da República), Roberto Gurgel, filed a suit at the Supreme Court last week charging Jaqueline Roriz with peculation. As the Chamber of Deputies has just voted for her to remain a member, she can only be tried for criminal activity at the Supreme Court, a privilege all elected officials in Brazil share.
Now, in order for any member of a legislative assembly to be tried at the Supreme Court prior authorization must be obtained from the assembly.
In other words, the same people who just voted not to consider what happened in the videotape sufficient wrongdoing for the extinction of Jaqueline Roriz’s civil rights will vote on whether or not to let her go on trial for what happened in the videotape.