Brazil’s Supreme Court (STF) finally began to judge the case of the “mensalão” (the big monthly allowance) seven years after the Lula administration’s scandal was made public. The eleven justices will decide if there was in fact a corruption scheme involving vote-buying in Congress to support the first Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva administration.
If the court decides the mensalão did exist, they will have to point out who was responsible.
In the beginning the case had 40 defendants (now reduced to 36). Some 500 witnesses testified and there are around 50,000 pages of evidence and testimony. Suffice it to say that most Supreme Court cases are resolved in about three days, the mensalão is scheduled to last for two months – maybe more.
According to the prosecution, the Lula government bought support from members of Congress and paid off campaign debts with off-the-books money (“caixa 2”). Members of at least four political parties were involved: PT, PP, PL (today PR) and PTB.
In June 2005, deputy Roberto Jefferson (PTB) gave an interview in which he revealed how the scheme worked, providing details about how the money was raised and how it was distributed. In May, Jefferson had been fingered as heading an embezzlement ring at the Post Office.
According to Jefferson, the PT authorized adman/lawyer Marcos Valério to raise money from financial institutions and state-owned enterprises through his advertising firms, DNA and SMP&B. The money was then passed on to government allies in Congress, disguised as payments to suppliers and contractors.
Congress took action. Two parliamentary investigative commissions were set up. One, to look into the accusations of fraud at the Post Office. The other to investigate congressional misconduct.
In order to escape punishment and be able to run for office in the future, four deputies resigned in 2005: José Borba (PMDB), Paulo Rocha (PT), Valdemar da Costa Neto (PL) and Carlos Rodrigues (PL).
At the same tine the Chamber of Deputies expelled three members: the whistleblower, Roberto Jefferson (PTB), José Dirceu (PTB) and Pedro Corrêa (PP).
In 2006, the then-chief federal prosecutor, Antonio Fernando de Souza, filed charges at the Supreme Court. The reason he took the case there was that in Brazil all elected officials and high ranking authorities in government have privileged criminal venue and can only be tried before the highest court in the land. Eleven of those accused were congressmen.
Souza outlined the case and it was accepted by the STF in 2007, becoming Penal Case 470 (Ação Penal 470). At that time there were 40 defendants. Since then, one died, one reached an agreement to do 750 hours of community service, and the new chief federal prosecutor dropped charges against two more defendants for lack of evidence.
The remaining 36 defendants face multiple counts of seven crimes. The most common charges are conspiracy, corruption, money laundering (that is, hiding the criminal origins of funds”). Other defendants are charged with illegally sending money out of Brazil and mismanagement (embezzlement) in financial institutions.
The justice handling the case in its initial stages (“redator”), Joaquim Barbosa, spent five years gathering information by examining evidence and witnesses to verify the prosecution’s case. In 2011, the chief federal prosecutor, Roberto Gurgel, formally decided there was sufficient evidence of wrongdoing to prosecute the case.
Defense lawyers claim the prosecution has been unable to prove that the mensalão existed. Therefore, it did not exist.
Brazil’s chief federal prosecutor (“procurador-geral da República”) Roberto Gurgel, presented his oral argument before the Supreme Court in what is officially Penal Case 470, but known as mensalão on Friday (August 3) saying that 36 out of the 38 originally accused should be found guilty as charged.
Gurgel announced that Luiz Gushiken, the minister of Social Communication in the Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva administration in 2005 when the scandal became public, and Antonio Lamas, then an aide in the PL political party, now the PR political party, would not be charged for lack of evidence.
Gurgel declared: “The evidence produced is overwhelmingly sufficient to condemn the accused. Never has a case been so solidly, concretely and materially documented and proved.”
In the heat of his presentation, Gurgel called for a decision that would serve as an example, “…a historical paradigm for the Brazilian justice system and all of society demonstrating that acts of corruption, a disgraceful and persistent stain on this country, will now be treated with the necessary rigor.”
The prosecutor said the seriousness of the proven crimes called for punishment proportional to the offices held by the defendants. “High level public authorities should serve as examples. Their acts have a pedagogical effect and this case should serve as a warning to those who deal with the public faith,” said the prosecutor.
In his presentation, which lasted five hours, Gurgel cited testimony and evidence to show how support for government policies was negotiated and members of Congress paid; how fraudulent loans were made at the Banco Rural; how congressmen used aides and fronts (“laranjas”) to launder the money; how money was sent abroad; how Banco do Brasil contracts were misappropriated.
Gurgel explained why the mensalão is probably the most complicated case the STF has ever dealt with by enumerating dozens and dozens of crimes that the 36 defendants committed.
The record holders with the most charges are those in the so-called operational core of the mensalão: adman/lawyer Marco Valério and his partners, Cristiano Paz and Ramon Hollerbach, who face no less than 143 charges each.
There are seven crimes that mensalão defendants are charged with: conspiracy, active and/or passive corruption, malfeasance, financial fraud (illegally sending funds out of the country), embezzlement and money laundering.
Monday, August 6, the defense lawyers for Marcos Valério (an adman accused of being the main operator of the scheme and link between the political and financial arms of the corruption ring), José Dirceu (the former cabinet member who was the powerful presidential Chief of Staff), José Genoíno (who was president of the PT) and Delúbio Soares (the PT treasurer) presented arguments.