Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Yesterday, a light aircraft carrying Supreme Federal Court (STF) Justice Zavascki crashed into the bay in front of Angra dos Reis, killing all four people on board.
The conspiracy theorists are out in force, claiming that the “accident” (to use President Temer’s word describing the slaughter of 56 prisoners in Manaus) was no accident, but rather a murder, designed to hide the evidence in the Lava-Jato case and prevent the guilty from being brought to justice.
The Curmudgeon is not given to conspiracy theories, but there are certainly past precedents that the incident was no accident. Lots of powerful Brazilians have died in “accidents” that very likely were not accidents. Senators Ulysses Guimarães and Eduardo Campos, candidates for President, died in suspicious plane crashes. Former President JK died in an automobile crash.
Add to this the current fact that Justice Zavascki was the “Relator”, or Reporting Justice, in some 77 Lava-Jato cases involving federal deputies and senators and cabinet ministers. He had just spent the annual end-of-year leave period from December 20th to January 6th working, studying the case files created by plea-bargaining defendants. Word had it that, in mid-February, he would remove the “secret” designation, which would permit the names of those accused to be known to all.
With Zavascki’s death, the case against the bigwigs comes to a crashing halt, while the STF and others debate how the STF should continue the investigations and who should replace Zavascki as “Relator”. Opinions vary, but they all mean there will be delay, delay, and more delay.
That is dangerous, because Brazilian criminal law has an absurd statute of limitations law which says that if defendants have been convicted, but their convictions have not been affirmed on appeal, then within a certain period they are legally permitted to go free. That occurred in several of the Mensalão cases, and would have occurred in more if then Chief Justice Joaquim Barbosa had not sped up the proceedings.
Appeals always take time, and even if the appointment of Zavascki’s successor happens soon, the new Justice must familiarize him or herself with thousands of pages of testimony. With the passage of time, the risk is that several defendants will not even be convicted, much less have their convictions confirmed on appeal.
In other words, the Lava-Jato investigations of Congressmen and Ministers will come to a screeching halt and the crooks may well go free.
In Latin, “cui bono?” means “who stands to gain?” The answer is obvious: all the rich and powerful miscreants now populating the Brazilian Congress and Cabinet stand to gain from Mr Zavascki’s death.
Maybe the above is only a conspiracy theory, but one is tempted to say, along with the Spanish, that “I don’t believe in witches, but … they do exist.” (“Yo no creo en brujas, pero que las hay, las hay!”)