Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – As this is written, the Justices of the Brazilian Supreme Court (“STF”) are now in the final stages of judging the 37 “mensalão” cases. To refresh your memory, the Curmudgeon will revive three of the questions and answers from his prior column. He will then ask a few more questions and give a few more answers.
Q: What was the mensalão? According to the prosecution, the mensalão was a scheme whereby a gang of elected politicians and their racketeering private citizen cronies, took public money and distributed it to political parties in exchange for votes in favor of government proposals.
Q: What crimes are alleged? Six separate crimes were alleged: (1) offering bribes; (2) taking bribes; (3) money laundering; (4) illegal remittances abroad; (5) embezzlement of public funds; and (6) racketeering or the formation of a gang of criminals.
Q. Who were the principal gangsters? The “Gang of Four” were: (a) Lula’s Chief of Staff, José Dirceu; (b) the President of PT, José Genuíno; (c) the PT Treasurer, Delúbio Soares; and (d) Marcos Valério, owner of an advertising agency who oversaw the distribution of funds. All were convicted of racketeering by votes of 6 to 4 of the STF Justices.
Q. How many defendants were convicted of at least one crime? How many were adjudged not guilty? Twenty-five (25) defendants were adjudged guilty of at least one crime. Marcos Valério was convicted of five separate crimes. Twelve (12) defendants were adjudged not guilty, several by virtue of a tie vote.
Q. A tie vote? After the mandatory retirement in September of Justice Cezar Peluzo, there were only 10 Justices on the STF. There were several cases where the 10 Justices split 5/5. Justice Peluzo’s successor will not be appointed until November. The STF considered waiting till he took office to decide, and considered giving the Presiding Justice a tie-breaking vote, but today voted almost unanimously to apply the long-standing rule in criminal law: “in dubio pro reo”.
Q. What’s that in English? It’s the presumption of innocence: if there is any doubt, rule in favor of the defendant. As there was no majority of the court holding the defendants guilty, they must be deemed not guilty.
Q. What remains to be done? The Justices must agree on the penalties to be applied to the guilty. The penalties vary from crime to crime, and can be added together to come up with a total number. As this is written, Marcos Valério has already accumulated penalties of at least seven (7) years of jail time.
Q. Why is this important? This is the first time in recorded Brazilian history that rich and crooked politicians and their rich and crooked cohorts will be sentenced to jail terms. That’s right, jail! Even the Curmudgeon did not dare dream this would happen. In his prior column, he asked: “What is the most likely decision?” His answer was that “most defendants, including the ‘Gang of Four’, will be adjudged guilty of less serious crimes, meaning they will go unpunished….”
The Curmudgeon, fearing a political decision, badly underestimated the STF, eight of whose eleven members were appointed by Lula and Dilma. Given the actual verdicts, the Curmudgeon is now free to salute the STF and to rejoice in the triumph of the Rule of Law.
Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, fetched up on these shores exactly 35 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!)