By Maria Lopez Conde, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – Supporters of high-ranking members of the Workers’ Party (PT), José Genoino, Delúbio Soares and José Dirceu, condemned in the landmark mensalão cash-for-votes corruption trial have set up crowdfunding websites, as well as organized fundraisers, to help pay for the fines imposed by Brazil’s highest court for the politicians’ crimes.
The move has prompted criticism from members of the country’s Congress and the Supreme Federal Court (STF) in what seems like an attempt to avoid full punishment in a trial that has been riddled by rounds of appeals and delayed prison warrants.
Former PT president, José Genoino, who was found guilty of corruption and forming a criminal gang, was the first one to set up a crowdfunding website. The Supreme Federal Court ordered him to pay R$667,500, the sum of money he is said to have helped divert from public coffers through the mensalão corruption scheme.
Genoino’s family and supporters raised R$761,900 through a website to cover his fines. His site went live on January 9th and by January 20th, donations to Genoino’s funds exceeded the amount owed. They allege that Genoino, who has been at the Papuda prison complex in Brasília since November, does not have the wealth to afford his corruption fines.
One day after Genoino paid for his fine in full, Delúbio Soares, the disgraced former treasurer of the PT, announced he had set up a crowdfunding website of his own. He received R$1.01 million in donations in nine days, which allowed Soares to quickly pay for his $466,800 fine. The additional funds will be used to cover the corruption fines of another mensaleiro, former PT Senator João Paulo Cunha. Soares began serving his nearly nine-year prison sentence in November.
On February 12th, José Dirceu, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s chief of staff and mastermind of the mensalão kickback scheme, launched his own crowdfunding website. As of February 18th, the site had already raised R$643,673, over half of the R$971.128,92 Dirceu was meant to pay for corruption and forming a criminal gang. Dirceu was sentenced to a ten year and ten month sentence, which he began to serve at Papuda in November.
The crowdfunding websites, as well as fundraiser dinners hosted by PT groups to pay for the crimes, have stirred controversy among members of the court that tried the high-ranking politicians and PT members.
Gilmar Mendes, a Supreme Federal Court Justice, said last Friday that the fundraisers to cover fines were an affront to the court’s decision. “It is not more than an attempt to disqualify a judicial decision that condemned them and the initiative has transformed into an undue process of transfer of punishment,” Mendes affirmed at a lecture at a law school outside Recife city.
Two weeks earlier, Mendes had said that the funds raised to pay for the fines imposed by the STF should be investigated by the Public Ministry. “Is it a result of money laundering? Is it a result of corruption?” he had asked of the millionaire fundraisers. His statement prompted PT Senator Eduardo Suplicy to send Mendes a letter defending the support PT members had given each other and the PT President, Rui Falcão, to file a notice for clarification with the court for, what he deemed, offensive to the honor of the Workers’ Party.
The fundraising initiatives have also drawn criticism for perpetuating Brazil’s so-called culture of impunity. The crowdfunding websites prompted Deputy João Campos from the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) to introduce a new law that would make fundraising to pay for fines imposed by Brazil’s court system illegal. According to Campos, the mensalão fundraisers “truly enhance the ridicule of the criminal justice system” and constitute “a clear demonstration of impunity.”