Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Weekly news magazine “Veja” recently published an interview with Gilmar Mendes, one of the Justices of the Brazilian Supreme Court (STF). In that interview, Mr. Mendes affirms categorically that former President Lula met him, in the presence of Nelson Jobim (himself a former STF Justice and Government minister) and suggested to him that it would be in his (Mendes’s) best interests if he could delay the STF deciding the corruption case commonly referred to as the “mensalão” (“big allowance”) paid to legislators during Lula’s term as President.
Lula denies having said any such thing. Mendes sticks by his story. Jobim is trying hard to downplay the incident. According to some sources, Jobim and Mendes were very good friends, and were collaborating on a soon-to-be-published book. That friendship seems to have been fatally gored by the Bull in the China Shop.
Imagine, if you will, that there was a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, where important Congresspersons of the Republican Party had been accused of participating in a scheme which funneled slush fund money, every month, into their personal pockets, while George W. Bush was President.
Imagine that, while this hypothetical case was pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, former President Bush went to visit one of the Supreme Court Justices to discuss the case, in the presence of a former Attorney General and Supreme Court Justice, who had intermediated the meeting.
Imagine the feeding frenzy the U.S. media would be having.
The “mensalão” cases involve corruption charges against dozens of Lula’s former Congressional henchmen, including several important leaders from the Workers Party. The charges allege slush funds were provided to support election campaigns. Most of the slush fund recipients deny liability, but no one in Brazil (save Lula?) believes them.
This case has been pending in the Brazilian court system for some ten years. And, because of some twisted interpretation of the statute of limitations, if the STF doesn’t decide the case in 2012, all the defendants will walk. Moreover, 2012 is an election year, where some of the slush fundees may be running for municipal office.
In this context, Lula’s suggestion to Mendes (if he made it) that this was not a convenient time for a decision by the STF, is duplicitous at best and criminal at worst. Moreover, Mendes reported that Lula offered him, in return, armor-plating against any investigation by the Cachoeira CPI. Mendes may need this armor because he once flew to Berlin with Senator Demosthenes Torres, currently the principal target in the CPI.
This raises many questions. How can Lula guarantee anything at all in a Parliamentary Inquiry Committee, if he’s not in Congress? Did Lula handpick the members of the Committee? Does Lula have the power to focus the Committee’s investigation elsewhere? Can Lula make the CPI “wind up in pizza?”
And, finally, the Curmudgeon wonders how Dilma feels these days about her patron and mentor having become the Bull in the China Shop?
Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, moved here thirty-plus years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)