By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Supreme Court (STF) has found at least ten politicians and business figures guilty of setting up the cash-for-votes mensalão scheme, the biggest and most drawn-out scandal in the history of Brazilian politics. The formation of the quadrilha (gang) – the group of people at the center of the vote-buying scandal – was seen as one the most significant parts of the trial.
A majority vote by the STF judges found ten of the thirteen defendants guilty of forming the quadrilha, including José Dirceu – ex-President Lula’s former Chief of Staff and co-founder of PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores, Lula and current president Dilma Rousseff’s Workers’ Party), former PT president José Genoino, former PT treasurer Delúbio Soares, and businessman Marcos Valério.
The six others who were convicted are either Valério’s business associates and members of the Banco Rural. Two others had their convictions quashed and no overall decision was reached over Vinícius Samarane’s guilt.
All thirteen suspected of forming the quadrilha had already been convicted of other crimes and 25 of the 37 defendants have now been convicted of a range of crimes relating to the scheme, including misappropriation of public funds, mismanagement, money laundering, inter-party corruption, bribery (active corruption) and tax evasion.
Although legal proceedings against the politicians and business figures only began in August this year, the scandal itself dates back to 2005, when millions of reais were allegedly siphoned off to ensure political allegiances in favor of the Lula government.
STF President and mensalão judge Carlos Ayres Britto said the guilty had “conspired to threaten public peace” and that they had “breached society’s trust”: “People nurture confidence in their state. The rule of law cannot be derailed and cannot be threatened with being derailed,” he said.
Fellow judge Celso de Mello labeled the scandal a “serious attack” on Brazilian democracy and “one of the most shameful chapters in the country’s political history.”
The STF has now timetabled extra sessions to make sure the trial finishes by October 25th, including taking final positions on undecided verdicts.
There is now pressure for a swift end to the judgments as Barbosa is traveling to Germany next week for medical treatment. If the proceedings go beyond this week, they will restart upon his return to Brasília in early November.
The final days of the trial will be used to vote on sentences to be handed down on those convicted by the court. Prison sentences are expected to be given to some of those convicted.
Judges will either follow Mr. Barbosa’s sentencing recommendations or, if a judge deems the sentence too lenient or too harsh, he or she can call a separate vote – thereby eliminating the need for ten separate votes on each count.
Judges who voted “not guilty” will not vote. In the majority of cases, those convicted will be sentenced over at least two crimes. Former STF minister Francisco Rezek told O Globo News that sentences would be calculated on the basis of the judges’ decisions and an average taken; commentators say the STF has hinted that heavy sentences are likely to be passed down on the guilty.
The verdicts appear to have been been generally welcomed by Brazilians, particularly judging by responses on social networks where with the news was met with jubilation and praise for the STF judges, with chief mensalão rapporteur and STF president-elect Joaquim Barbosa the most lauded.
With the second round of voting for municipal elections taking this weekend on Sunday October 28th, the PT will be keen to see whether the mensalão scandal has any effect on its candidates. This will be particularly important in the race to be São Paulo mayor, where PSDB candidate José Serra has been attempting to taint his PT rival, Fernando Haddad, by highlighting the number of PT politicians that have been embroiled in the scandal.