After an anti-corruption operation called Hurricane (the original name is in English) in Rio de Janeiro, which netted 25 big-fish arrests, including top judges, the Brazilian Federal Police launched this Friday, April 20, an offensive against São Paulo judges involved in a sentences-for-sale scheme. The new effort was named Operation Themis in an homage to the Greek goddess of justice.
While authorities haven't yet confirmed it seems that the Rio action led to the one in São Paulo, which apparently also involves illegal gambling like bingos and slot machines.Â This is the largest police offensive in recent memory against the Brazilian judiciary.
At least three chief judges and two federal judges from the 3rd Region, an area that includes São Paulo, make the list of suspects. The operation is being conducted under secrecy of justice.
The Federal Police involved in the São Paulo operation asked the Justice for the arrest of chief judges, a Treasury prosecutor, 20 lawyers and military and civilian police agents, but the requests were denied by minister Felix Fischer from the Brazil's highest appellate court, the STJ (Supremo Tribunal da Justiça).
About 300 federal police agents took part in the latest operation Forty of them entered the TRF (Regional Federal Court) building located at Paulista avenue and seized documents from three chief judges' offices. The chief judges involved are Roberto Haddad, Nery da Costa Júnior e Alda Basto.
The federal agents also visited the offices of federal judges, Djalma Moreira Gomes and Maria Cristina Cukierkorn. While the building was surrounded by policemen carrying semi-automatic weapons the federal police men spent around three hours getting their evidence.
The Third Region's TRF counts on 42 chief judges, 273 judges and is responsible for about 50% of all federal rulings in Brazil.
The Federal Police also seized documents at Abrabin (Brazilian Bingos Association), which is headquartered in São Paulo. The seized material also includes computers, three cars and two motorcycles.
Operation Hurricane, in Rio, seems to have started last November, when federal agents invaded the law office of Virgílio Medina, the brother of the STJ's minister, Paulo Medina. In the night raid, which lasted a little over an hour, the police secretly filmed, photographed and photocopied a series of papers.
It's known now that at that time they found strong evidence that judicial decisions were being sold and discovered hints that among those involved might be even justices at the STJ (Supreme Justice Court) Brazil's highest tribunal for matters not involving the constitution.
All five judges detained are suspect of the same crime: selling sentences and preliminary injunctions, which most of the time benefit businessmen who operate illegal gambling businesses like bingo houses that offer slot machines, which are illegal in Brazil since 2000.
According to the police, judges and other workers were getting from US$ 10,000 to US$ 15,000 a month to look the other way and let the illegal gambling industry conduct their businesses.
Minister Medina, is the top authority being investigated by the federal police. His brother Virgílio was arrested charged with negotiating three of the minister's decisions. One of them, benefiting the gambling Mafia, cost about 600.000 reais, about US$ 300,000.
The minister says that he is honest and didn't know anything about the swindle between his brother and the organized crime. Curiously, however, the judicial decision was taken exactly in the terms agreed upon, a couple of weeks before, between Virgílio Medina and his criminal clients.
In phone conversations tapped by the police Virgílio is heard discussing the amount of the bribe with the lawyer for Betec Games, Sérgio Luzio Marques de Araújo. Betec had 900 of its slot machines seized by the authorities. Lawyer Medina started high asking for one million reais (about US$ 500,000). It took dozens of calls and personal meetings before the price went down to US$ 300,000. Later the Supreme Court overturned the preliminary order.
The gambling Mafia is so brazen-faced that they tried to approach chief Justice Ellen Gracie, after she ruled against them, according to the material collected by the federal investigators. The maneuver, however, didn't work.