By Maria Lopez Conde, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – Brazil’s Federal Supreme Court (STF) Justice Celso de Mello voted yesterday to approve the motion to reconsider the court’s decision in the mensalão corruption scandal. The Justice’s vote brought the final tally favorable to hearing the new appeals to six against five, effectively activating a new trial.
The STF’s decision to review its verdicts in the landmark case, which had for the first time condemned well-known politicians to prison sentences for corruption charges, has sparked fears that it is back to “business as usual” for Brazil’s culture of impunity.
The retrial could reverse the sentences of twelve out of the 25 high-ranking politicians condemned in the mensalão vote-buying scheme, including José Dirceu, former President Lula’s chief of staff and mastermind behind the corruption scandal, sentenced to a nearly eleven-year prison sentence for corruption and forming a gang.
Justice Celso de Mello broke the Federal Supreme Court’s deadlock, which had reached a 5-5 vote on the appeals last week. The court will allow new trials for those who received at least four votes for acquittal in the trial in December 2012.
Justice de Mello cited both human rights as well as precedent as the reasons behind his decision. “No one. Absolutely no one can be deprived of (his right to defense) even if it is antagonistic to the collective sentiment,” he said during his opening remarks yesterday, adding that the STF must “annul the exacerbated passions of the crowds.”
This decision comes just two weeks after the country’s top court finished reviewing the first set of appeals filed by those convicted in the case last year. At that time, the STF voted to uphold 22 out of the 25 verdicts and shorten three sentences.
The mensalão trial condemned some of the country’s leading politicians for corruption, money laundering, as well as racketeering, in connection to the payment of large monthly allowances to members of Congress in exchange of favorable votes on legislation between 2003 and 2005.
The watershed convictions were largely seen as a blow to impunity in a country notorious for corruption scandals, and the reversal is telling. The new trial is likely to deliver its verdicts in 2014.
Read more (in Portuguese).
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