By Maria Lopez Conde, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – The Attorney General in Brazil petitioned the Federal Supreme Court (STF) not to issue new verdicts for the former high-ranking government officials and party leaders convicted in the “mensalão” trial. The country’s highest court finalized its review of the appeals filed by 25 people convicted in the vote-buying scheme last week and could face a new round of appeals this week.
The Attorney General, Helenita Acioli, has qualified the possibility of new appeals as “absurd” on the grounds that the mensalão case has already reached the country’s highest echelon twice. The Federal Supreme Court finished reviewing the appeals from 25 of those condemned in the trial last Thursday, September 5th.
Those initial appeals did not contest the heart of the court’s decision, but questioned instead the length of prison sentences or the kind of sentences handed down. Last week, the STF upheld 22 out of the 25 decisions it made last year.
Two politicians had the prison time they were ordered to serve shortened. Breno Fischberg, former shareholder of brokerage firm, Bônus Banval, who had been condemned to a five-year open regime prison stint for money laundering had his sentence reduced to three years with an open regime.
The former Progressive Party advisor, João Claudio Génu, also had his money laundering sentence reduced from five-year with a semi-open regime to four years with the same regime. One, Enivaldo Quadrado, had his punishment converted to community service.
Up for discussion this week in the STF are the “appeals of the appeals,” which could result in an entirely new trial. These fresh appeals question the STF decisions and sentences that split votes between the ten Justices and received four favorable votes during the trial in November 2012.
If those new appeals are accepted, those convicted from crimes such as corruption and money laundering could get the court to examine new evidence and revert their sentences. Eleven of those condemned last year, including Workers’ Party federal deputy from the state of São Paulo, João Paulo Cunha and Génu, have the right to contest the court’s decision on these grounds.
The Federal Supreme Court’s review of its verdicts in the mensalão case – dubbed the trial of the century in Brazilian politics – has sparked fears that the court will revert some of its decisions. Fueling those fears as well, is the fact that none of those convicted have served any prison time yet.
The mensalão trial received national and international attention last November because it handed down tough sentences to politicians found guilty of a vote-buying scheme involving members of Congress and the ruling Workers’ Party between 2003 and 2005.
The landmark decision seemed to signal the end of Brazil’s well-known culture of impunity, in which it is not uncommon for politicians to not serve any prison time or relinquish their positions of power after being convicted of crimes. The case also elevated the profile of the country’s STF to an anti-corruption agent in the eyes of the public.
Joaquim Barbosa, Brazil’s Chief Justice, who also serves as the court’s President, became a household name for calling for tough sentences in the televised mensalão trial last November. Barbosa opposes additional reviews because they might prolong the case.
“A review of the facts and evidence by the same judging body is improper. The Constitution and our laws do not provide for additional privileges. This Court addressed [the case] for five months in 2012 and has deliberated for over one month in the second half of 2013. Admitting the embargoes (appeals) in the case would be a way to immortalize the case,” Barbosa said last Thursday.