Brazil’s Legendary Anti-Corruption Investigations Thwarted
Brazil’s Operation Car Wash (Lava Jato), the federal investigation that began in 2014 and has been responsible for bringing dozens of big name executives and politicians to justice, may soon end. The Federal Police recently announced that the famous Lava Jato task force would be shut down. Many speculate that the timing of the decision has to do with evidence the task force gathered against President Michel Temer. The evidence suggests that Temer accepted a bribe from a food company in the amount of $152,000.
The official reason given for breaking up the task force, however, is to spread members among the Federal Police’s more general anti-corruption division. Task force members and other members of the Federal Police have publicly rejected the idea that breaking up the team is intended to increase effectiveness. In fact, they claim that it would only add unnecessary delays. Currently, the task force is immune from many bureaucratic procedures, allowing members to act more quickly.
The initial Lava Jato investigation was intended to uncover a money-laundering scheme at a gas station. But as it turned out, that was only the tip of the iceberg. Ongoing investigations have since uncovered a corruption trail including 280 people with hundreds of others having been named. To date, more than $3 billion in laundered money has been recovered.
For many Brazilians, the Lava Jato investigations have served as a symbol of change. They symbolize better days to come in a country rocked by political and economic turmoil. Some of the task force members have achieved a certain degree of legendary status. Police officer Newton Ishii, for example, who was responsible for arresting many of the suspects, has become a national hero. Judge Sérgio Moro, who most recently sentenced former President Lula to prison, receives standing ovations when he appears in public. Some even hope he will run for president in the next election.
For viewers in the United States, the Brazilian government’s attempt to shut down the task force hits a bit too close to home. It is reminiscent of US President Donald Trump’s move to fire the chief of the FBI to thwart investigations into his presidential campaign.
The question in Brazil is what happens next. Institutional reforms are great when they lead to increased efficiency and justice. But in this case, the question remains: why change something that seems to finally be working.