Brazil Gets New Congress. 15% of Deputies Are Charged with Crimes

A report published by Globo online reveals that at least 74, 1 in 7, or close to 15% of the 513 people elected last October to be Brazil's House representatives are involved in one or more lawsuit or criminal investigation under way in the Federal Justice tribunals around the country. 

The investigative work took two months and counted on the effort of several reporters who searched for information in the seven Federal Justice tribunals in Brazil. The reporters unearthed all kinds of accusations from corruption to murder attempt. The 74 representatives are involved in  133 lawsuits. The new Congress will be inaugurated tomorrow, February 1st.

Commenting on the report, Claudio Abramo, executive director of  Transparência Brasil, an NGO dedicated to fight corruption, said that the number of House representative with court cases is very high. He suggests that the electoral legislation should be changed so that people who have been convicted in court wouldn't be allowed to be a candidate to any elective post.

The law now only bars those whose cases have gone all the way up the judicial system and cannot be appealed anymore. Even in these cases, the politicians get all their rights back just two years after having served their sentences.

For Everson Tobaruela, an expert in political and electoral law and an adviser to the Brazilian Bar Association (OAB), there's nothing wrong with the legislation. "As a lawyer," he says, "I have to say that, while there are chances for appeals, there is a presumption of innocence. The Constitution says that the person is innocent. This is a technical parameter. It is the society that has to make this judgment and not vote for those who are suspect."

According to Globo, 51% of all these lawsuits deal with crimes against the public administration. Most of the cases involve embezzlement, a crime in which civil servants use public money or goods for their own benefit. Frauds during bid processes and  misappropriation of public funds cases were some of the other crimes found during the investigative reporting.

In second place, with 20% of the cases, come the tax crimes being tax cheating the most common of them.

In Brazil most politicians don't seem interested in serving the public, but seek a political career in order to get power and privileges. One of these privileges is to be free from the common justice. All representatives who were elected and had pending court cases will have all these lawsuits automatically transferred to the Supreme Court.

Among those in Brazil who cannot be judged by the lower courts are the president and the vice-president, senators and House members, ministers, the attorney general, the commanders of the armed forces, as well as members of higher courts.

There are those, however, who disagree that having a higher court for high authorities is a benefit for those who get involved in crime. They will have no right appeal in case they are convicted.

Some Charges

Ronaldo Cunha Lima, from the PSDB party of Paraí­ba state, has been charged with trying to murder – while he was Paraí­ba's governor – the state's former governor Tarcí­sio Miranda Buriti.

Cunha Lima shot Buriti twice in a restaurant, in 1993. The ex-governor went into coma for a few days, but ended up surviving. The lawsuit against Lima continues dragging in the courts 14 years after the murder attempt. Meanwhile Buriti has died in 2003.

In his defense, Lima says that Buriti was threatening him and that the crime was not premeditated.

Paulo Magalhães, from Bahia's PFL, who was re-elected House representative, is accused of assaulting a man who used to drive for his family. Magalhães says that the chauffeur had committed petty theft at his parents house and that he decided to take the man to the police station, but never used any violence. Witnesses tell a different story, however.

The re-elected representative Armando Abí­lio, from Paraí­ba's PTB, is charged by the Federal Public Prosecutor's Office with trying to defraud the entry examination for the Federal University of Paraí­ba's medicine school. According to the justice, he paid two professors, one of chemistry and another one of physics, to give his daughter via radio the answers to the test.

The accusation against Asdrúbal Bentes, from the PMDB of Pará, is that he tried to buy votes by offering to pay for tubal ligations in a private hospital. He is also charged with putting the mothers' lives at risk since the hospital had no authorization to do the surgical procedure and the patients didn't undergo the necessary preoperative exams.

Re-elected representative Dilceu Sperafico, from Paraná's PP, is charged with using 27,000 tons of wheat from a state-owned company (Conab) as collateral for a family bank loan.  At the time of the accusation, in 1995, he was the president of the institution.

Fernando Giacobo, from Paraná's PL, who has been reelected, is charged by Paraná state's Public Prosecutor with kidnapping and false imprisonment.  According to the accusation, he demanded that a real estate agent return the commission from the commercialization of a building the House representative owned. In face of the refusal, the agent was locked in a bedroom and left there until late the next day.

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