Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – This week or next, the Federal Senate will begin hearings to decide whether or not to confirm the appointment to the Brazilian Supreme Court (STF) of one Luiz Edson Fachin, replacing retired Justice Barbosa, the hero of the Mensalão cases.
The nominee, a law professor in the state of Paraná, appears to have the appropriate academic credentials, although he’s never been a judge. But there’s one potentially troubling part of his political history: in 2010, at an election campaign rally, he read a manifesto, signed by many judges, exhorting the audience to vote for candidate Dilma.
What’s worrying many people is the question of whether or not the nominee will be the latest in a line of STF Justices who have become subservient to the interests of PT, to the detriment of justice. The appointments of Justices Toffoli, Zavascki and Barroso have now given the court a bias it did not have before.
The particular worry is how the STF will vote over the Petrolão scandal. Lula, Dilma and PT in general are deathly afraid that the investigations now being carried out by the Public Prosecutor will eventually reach back to them as the instigators of the corruption.
Back in March, the Curmudgeon warned his readers that the Second Panel of the Brazilian Supreme Court (STF) was going to hear cases concerning the Petrolão scandal, because in a successful political machination, Justice Toffoli was transferred into that Panel.
The Second Panel has now heard its first case, and by a 3-2 vote (Zavascki and Toffoli in the majority) it has decided to release the ringleader of the Gang of Nine accused of corrupting Petrobras directors in order to win contracts. Almost as an afterthought, the Panel also released the other eight members of the Gang. They are now enjoying the luxury of “home prison” and are wearing the electronic anklets that track their whereabouts.
This decision has forced a change in strategy by the crusading public prosecutors, who had relied on the psychological pressure of imprisonment to “convince” (detractors say “coerce”) the defendants to confess and implicate others, in exchange for leniency. Many had indeed done so, and the ringleader was scheduled for another round of examinations next week.
Query whether, now that they’re comfortably ensconced in their palatial mansions, with unlimited and unmonitored access to telephone, internet, visits from friends and business colleagues, they will still feel inclined to cooperate (detractors say “to rat”). With the stool pigeons now silenced, the trail back to the crooked Petrolão politicos will grow cold, and all stand a much better chance of going scot free.
Dilma will deny, if asked, that her recent appointments of STF Justices had anything to do with packing the STF to cover up PT involvement in the Mensalão and Petrolão scandals. She will deny that, in order to be nominated by her, Mr. Fachin had to pass a litmus test, agreeing that PT can do no wrong.
The Curmudgeon would like to believe her, but he doesn’t.
The Curmudgeon came to Rio many long years ago, and has been waspishly observing Brazilian politics in this space for a few years now. The scandals have supplied him with lots of material, and they don’t seem like going away. Stay tuned.