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Opinion, by Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Curmudgeon invites his braver readers to Google the word “suruba”. Almost all the references will refer to porn; unsurprising, because “suruba” is slang for a gang bang.

Michael Royster, aka The Curmudgeon.
Michael Royster, aka The Curmudgeon.

The one non-porn reference was to Brazilian Senator Romero Jucá, who apologized for using the word several times in a speech last Monday against the STF.

Jucá is one of the movers and shakers in the Temer government, long ensconced in the “Republic of Maranhão”, a criminal gang whose main activity is trying to torpedo the Lava-Jato investigations. Jucá is one of the principal gang bangers, facing criminal charges after having been fingered by a plea bargainer in the Petrolão scandal for taking bribes some years ago.

What Jucá was reacting to was a proposal, made by two STF Justices, that the “privileged forum” now available to members of the Executive and Legislative branches, should only apply when the defendants committed the crime while they were Ministers or Members of Congress, acting as such, rather than to any crime they may have committed in the past.

That may not sound very important, but it is. The “privileged forum” means that any criminal investigation and trial of Congressmen or Ministers must be carried out by the STF, Brazil’s Supreme Court. If a lower court judge comes across evidence involving current Congressmen or Ministers, he must send the case files to Brasília.

Why do politicians want the case to go to the STF? Because that court is not designed to be a criminal court, but rather a constitutional court, hearing only questions involving the federal constitution. Because courts in Brazil oversee determining and approving investigations by the police and Public Prosecutor, judging a criminal case is hugely time-consuming.

As it happens, there are now over one hundred criminal cases pending at STF — and there will be many more soon. There is no way the STF can deal with all those cases. The proposal by the STF Justices to limit the privilege would eliminate dozens of those cases, remanding them to lower courts best suited for them.

What happens to the cases at the STF? Almost always, impunity happens. Brazilian law says that the statute of limitations on punishment for crimes runs until defendants have been convicted and their convictions upheld on appeal. Any case that is today sent to the STF is unlikely to be judged and affirmed until the statute of limitations has run out, in which case the defendant will go scot free.

All Brazilian politicians know and love this practical impunity, so proposals to eliminate the privilege never prosper. In today’s struggles, the gang bangers from the Republic of Maranhão all claim that the proposal to limit their privilege cannot be changed by STF decision, but only by a constitutional amendment.

Constitutional amendments require the vote of sixty percent of the members of both houses. Given the fact that at least sixty percent of current members (the “300 picaretas“) are alleged to have committed some criminal infraction in the past, there is no hope that will ever occur. The gang bangers are in control, and impunity reigns.

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