Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – In his last posting, the Curmudgeon maintained that to avoid becoming a failed state at least two things are necessary: an independent judiciary and a sense of shame. Writing on this yesterday [Thanksgiving Day], the Curmudgeon is pleased to report that several Brazilian institutions have given a shining example of what Brazil can become with those essentials.
We will start with the independent judiciary, which yesterday ordered a sitting Senator, a billionaire banker and a lawyer to go to jail. Senator Delcidio Amaral was the PT party leader in that chamber. Well respected by most Senators, including the opposition parties, he seemed to be above suspicion.
Yesterday, however, the 1st Panel of the STF unanimously voted to have him arrested for attempting to obstruct justice in the Lava Jato investigations. He and his banker offered hush money to former Petrobras director Nestor Cerveró so as to keep him from mentioning their misdeeds in his plea bargain.
They failed because Mr. Cerveró’s son found a sense of shame, and attended meetings with the senator, the banker and the lawyer where they heard the lawyer say he could arrange to get Mr. Cerveró out of jail by talking to STF Justices; they even plotted a getaway route (via Paraguay to Spain). Notwithstanding the senator’s precautions, the son surreptitiously recorded these meetings and sent the tapes to the federal police; they then went to Judge Moro in Curitiba, who sent them to the STF.
The STF Justices on the panel were outraged. Their own honor called into question, they took the unprecedented step of ordering prison for a sitting senator. They then followed the law that says they have to notify the Senate and allow it 24 hours to confirm or overrule the imprisonment.
In the Senate, a rare sense of shame overcame opaque interests. To no one’s surprise, the President of the Senate, himself under investigation for Lava Jato crimes, called for voting by secret ballot on the question; derided by social media, he was defeated by a majority of his colleagues, who voted 52 – 20 to have an open vote. Subsequently, by open ballot the Senate voted 59-13 to confirm the imprisonment.
The corruption the senator wanted covered up involved Petrobras’s purchase of the refinery in Pasadena Texas. By “Petrolão” standards, the cost was chump change: a measly billion dollars. The Comperj, Abreu e Lima, Premium I and II refineries involved multiples of that amount. However, Pasadena was the first scandal investigated, the foot in the door that prosecutors and judges have now thrown wide open.
Moreover, the Pasadena purchase occurred while Lula was President and Dilma chaired the Petrobras Board of Directors—the scam went down under their watch. Both claim no knowledge of any misdeeds but they must be feeling a little less comfortable today than they did yesterday.
The Curmudgeon, today and every day, gives thanks for Brazil’s independent judiciary and for all those in public office who have acquired a sense of shame.