Deputy Rodrigo Maia, of the Democrats (DEM), was elected speaker of the Brazil’s House of Representatives. Six candidates disputed for the votes of the 513 deputies. Maia got 293 votes, followed by Jovair Arantes, of the PTB (Brazilian Labor Party), with 105.
Maia is to occupy the post up to the end of 2018, and had taken the reins of the congressional house when his predecessor Eduardo Cunha was ousted.
The election confirmed he had been a favorite with the presidency and a bloc comprising 13 parties, including President Michel Temer’s PMDB (the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party).
Maia’s candidacy was targeted by four motions with the Supreme Court. Some were authored by deputies questioning his legitimacy. Authorities from the Judiciary branch understood that Maia’s was not a case of re-election, which is illegal according to the rules of the lower house.
On the controversy, he remarked: “A lot has been said about strengthening our House, a lot has been said about strengthening the Chamber, but once again the main actor of our election was the Judiciary, and, incredible as it may seem, it was a decision made by the politicians themselves. This decision has been weakening our House.”
In his view, in order for the country to get out of the crisis, the so-called Federative Pact should be discussed with a view to unburden the coffers of the states and municipalities with the better distribution of funds raised by taxing. The candidate also advocated the reforms in labor and in the pension system.
Maia has headed the Chamber for seven months. During his tenure, he has maintained good relations with the Executive branch. He says he believes not only the autonomy of the three branches matters, but also the harmony between them.
Senate’s New President
Brazil’s Senate also got a new leader. Senator Eunício Oliveira, a member of President Michel Temer’s PMDB party, was elected president of Brazil’s Senate for 2017-2018.
He was the choice of 61 out of the 81 senators, a confirmation of his lead as the favorite candidate. His election gives the PMDB a 12-year reign in the Senate.
Oliveira was elected to succeed Senator Renan Calheiros, who will in turn replace him as party leader in the house.
Born in a small town in Ceará, Northeast Brazil, Eunício Oliveira left his hometown as a boy to work and study. At a young age, he moved to Brasília where he got his Business Administration and his Political Science degrees from the University Center of Brasília (CEUB).
He was a member of the old Brazilian Democracy Movement (MDB) that opposed the military dictatorship. In 1981, the movement originated the PMDB party, where Oliveira began his political career.
Between 1998 and 2010, he served three terms as federal deputy for Ceará, having stepped aside to serve as Minister of Communications in 2004-2005 during the first administration of then-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. He was elected senator in 2011, to serve office until 2018.
Shortly before the results were announced, the incumbent president of the Senate, Renan Calheiros, addressed senators and took stock of his years in the position. He remembered critical episodes in his administration, including his suspension from the post through a Supreme Court injunction, and his subsequent reinstatement.
Calheiros made several references to the “Car Wash” corruption scandal, and called for the declassification of the plea bargain testimonies heard from the executives of Odebrecht construction company, one of the contractors involved in the scandal, which have recently admitted as evidence in the case by the Chief Justice Cármen Lúcia.
“Elected representatives must not become a herd ruled by oppressive publicity,” he said, referring to the possibility of the allegations leaking to the press.
He also listed important bills passed in the past two years, the austerity measures adopted by the Senate to reduce costs and optimize investments, and the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff.
Talking about the nationwide demonstrations that broke out in 2013, he recalled an episode in June 2013 when “the Senate worked with the crowd knocking at its door”, pointing out how Congress members at that time responded to popular pressure by working to pass anti-corruption bills including provisions to broaden the so-called Ficha Limpa (“Clean Slate”) Act.
That measure bans politicians with criminal liabilities from running for office, extending it to government employees, and a bill, still pending consideration by the Chamber of Deputies, to change the punishment to judges and prosecutors that commit impeachable offenses from compulsory retirement to harsher measures.
Temer Asks for Support
Brazil’s President Michel Temer congratulated Senator Eunício Oliveira on his election as president of the Senate by 61-10, with 10 blank votes.
Presidential Spokesman Alexandre Parola said Temer hopes to work with Oliveira, a fellow member of the president’s PMDB party, and the other lawmakers from the governing coalition, on a reform agenda which, he says, is putting Brazil back on track towards growth and prosperity.
In his first interview as president of the Senate, Eunício Oliveira said his relationship with the Executive government will be one of “independence, harmony, and dialogue,” but made a commitment to the reform agenda proposed by the government. According to him, the Senate agenda will be decided in collaboration with party leaders.
As for the labor reform, he said it will be included on the agenda when it is sent to the House, but only after discussions with employers’ associations and workers’ unions.
He declined to comment on a recent ruling by the Chief Supreme Court Justice Cármen Lúcia to retain the classified status of plea bargaining testimonies heard from executives of Odebrecht construction company in the “Car Wash” corruption scandal.
One of the whistleblowers confessed to paying US$ 1.59 million into the senator’s campaign when he ran for governor of Ceará state in 2014.
“The president of this House will always keep dialogue, but it’s not his responsibility to take any actions regarding decisions made by the chief of another branch of government,” he said.
Brazil’s Supreme Court Justice Edson Fachin was picked in a draw, this February 2 to be the new reporting justice in charge of the Car Wash corruption investigation. He will replace Teori Zavascki, who died on January 19 as a plane he was flying in crashed into the sea on its way to Paraty, Rio de Janeiro.
Fachin, whose name was drawn by the Supreme Court’s electronic systems, will now be responsible for overseeing the entire Car Wash case in the high court.
Only the names in the Second Panel of justices of the court, which includes Celso de Mello, Dias Toffolli, Gilmar Mendes and Ricardo Lewandowski, were pooled for the draw.
From now on, any requests or measures related to the Car Wash investigation, use of eavesdropping or evidence, gathering procedures, for example, must be granted or authorized by Fachin if the investigators find elements potentially implicating officials with jurisdiction privileges, including government ministers and lawmakers, for example, in the corruption scandal.
PT’s Marketing Man Convicted
In a decision made February 2 as part of Operation Car Wash, Federal Judge Sergio Moro sentenced former Workers’ Party (PT) marketing man João Santana to eight years in jail for the crimes of money laundering. Ad woman Mônica Moura, Santana’s wife, received the same sentence for the same wrongdoing.
The sentence handed down to Mônica Moura and João Santana says that “money laundering was specially sophisticated, with the creation of an off-shore and its use in the opening of at least one secret account overseas, for pocketing and concealing the fruits of corruption. A contract was also forged in a bid to bring it under the guise of compliance with the law.”
Also convicted were engineer Zwi Skornicki (active corruption, money laundering, criminal conspiracy), former PT treasurer João Vaccari Neto (passive corruption), former Petrobras General Manager for International Affairs Eduardo Musa (passive corruption, criminal conspiracy), and former Seven Brasil director João Carlos Ferraz (passive corruption, criminal organization).
Of these, three had their sentence alleviated through a plea bargain deal. Only Vaccari Neto gave up his right as laid out by law.
According to reports filed by federal prosecutors, Zwi Zkornicki transferred funds to Mônica Moura and João Santana through foreign-held accounts under the names of off-shore firms not declared to Brazilian authorities, in such a way as to hinder the identification of the illicit operation as well as the names of the individuals in charge of the accounts. The operation was deemed money laundering.
The report mentions the transfer of US$ 4.5 million to João Santana and Mônica Moura for crimes committed directly against Petrobras. This amount derives from a larger value directed at the PT for participation in the scheme.