It’s getting harder and harder to keep abreast of all the big scandals going on in Brazil. Just in the last few days more than 70 congressmen were charged in a case involving overpriced ambulances (the Sanguessugas – Leeches – Scandal) and the whole Assembly House of Rondônia state, with the exception of one state deputy, was arrested after being accused of embezzlement.
Then yesterday, August 11, the Brazilian Federal police announced that they had arrested 30 military men, public servants and businessmen who were allegedly getting kickbacks in a scheme involving bidding for Army and school food in the northern state of Amazonas. Among those detained: 10 military men on active duty and one retired.
Ten of those arrested are from the Army, and among them seven are Army officers. They include Rio Grande do Norte’s colonel Vitor de Fellipes and two lieutenant-colonels Francisco de Souza and Omar Santos from Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, respectively.
The Federal Police work was named Saúva Operation for an agricultural plague, a feared and widespread Brazilian leaf cutting ant. The inquiry swept across six states: Amazonas, Rio Grande do Norte, Ceará, Rondônia, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo as well as Brasília, the Federal District.
Although some of the arrests occurred in other Brazilian states, according to Kérsio Pinto, superintendent of the Amazonas state’s Federal Police the food gang acted only in Amazonas.
Among the nine public servants being charged we have the president of Amazonas state’s Bidding Commission, Roberto Carbonari Santana. People working for the Education and Finance Secretaria were also detained.
The leader of the scheme, according to authorities, was Cristiano da Silva Cordeiro. He was one of the 11 businessmen dealing with food distribution and supply who were also arrested. Cordeiro owns 20 food companies.
Gold Distribuidora de Alimentos, Norte Distribuidora, Global Logística and Big Norte were some of the companies created by Cordeiro and his family to lay their hands on the public money.
Saúva operation got its name from the notion of the organization inside an ant colony with its workers and queen. "If we kill the queen, the gang dissolves," said Josenildo Cavalcante, a Federal Police chief. "We have already caught the leader of the scheme: businessman Cristiano da Silva Cordeiro".
According to investigations from Brazil’s Federal Revenue Service and the Federal Police, the 30 companies involved in the scheme were doled out US$ 164 million in the last six years, but declared only US$ 12.8 in their tax filings. In 2005 alone, the 32 individuals charged with fraud had a US$ 24.6 governmental windfall.
According to the Brazilian authorities, there were four big business groups involved in the scheme. They created fictitious companies that participated in governmental biddings. Sometimes they entered the same bidding with several different names.
In some instances, food from the government’s warehouses were stolen by public workers and sold to Cordeiro who then sold it back to the government at premium prices. Sometimes the product unloaded, like beans and powdered milk, were already spoiled, improper for consumption.
The suspects can be charged with gang formation, feeding fake data in databases, embezzlement, active and passive corruption, money laundering, influence peddling and several other felonies, misdemeanors and peccadillos. Here’s a list of those arrested by the Federal Police:
From the Army
Colonel Vitor Augusto de Fellipes – Rio Grande do Norte
Lieutenant colonel. Francisco Nilton de Souza Júnior – Ceará
Lieutenant colonel Omar Santos – São Paulo
Captain Erick Correa Basuíno de Lima – Distrito Federal
Captain Henrique dos Santos Botelho
Captain. Fábio José Capechi
Captain Carlos Alberto Teixeira Ramos – Rio de Janeiro
2nd Sergeant, Francivaldo da Costa Gomes
3rd Sergeant, Joelson Freitas of Jesus
3rd Sergeant, Alexandre Da Silva Souza
Adalto Ram Portela Júnior
Adams Emmanuel Pinto Cavalcante
Alberto Paulo Cavalcante Xavier
Claudomira Pinto Cavalcante
Cristiano da Silva Cordeiro
Derik Costa Limeira (Son of João Leitão)
Elisângela Alves de Aguiar (Lica)
João Leitão Limeira
Júlio Cesar Ferreira de Almeida (Julinho)
Lamark Barroso de Souza
Ricardo de Oliveira Lobato
Manoel Paulino da Costa Filho
Afonso Wolf Moraes
Finance Secretariat Employee
Graça Maria Rocha Fonseca da Silva
Education Secretariat’s employees
Aparecida Maria Fernandes Júnior
Dyrce da Conceição Barros Edwards
Superintendent of the Cona (National Supply Company)
Juscelino de Souza Moura
Amazonas’s Bidding Commission president
Roberto Carbonari Santana
Inspectors from the Amazonas Sanitary Vigilance Commission
Cimara Santos da Silva
Maristela Lake Pinheiro