Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – This week, Brazil’s hugely unpopular President Temer has once again capitulated to the corrupt gang of politicians who have declared war on the Lava-Jato investigations. He has replaced the head of the Federal Police, who had been appointed seven years ago by President Dilma, and had managed to stay on at the job.
The problem with the former head? He did his job far too well. Lava-Jato investigations are not just carried out by Brazil’s crusading Public Prosecutors, but also by the Federal Police. In fact, there has long been a low-key turf war between the two sets of authorities, as each seeks greater autonomy (and public applause) for its investigations.
The past two months have seen two startling developments in the Lava-Jato, and both were the result of actions by the Federal Police. First, there was the publication of the “PMDB Gang” of criminals, showing Temer at the head of a crowd of unsavory politicos such as Eduardo Cunha, Geddel Vieira, Eliseu Padilha and Moreira Franco, all allegedly involved in money laundering and other criminal conspiracies.
The second was the federal police raid on an apartment apparently rented and used by Temer’s ex-Minister Geddel Vieira in Salvador, Bahia, resulting in the astounding discovery of R$51 million — suitcases piled on suitcases, all filled to almost overflowing with cold, hard cash.
The latter discovery, of course, has become the poster child of the success of the Lava-Jato investigations — everyone knows there are no legal uses available for that huge amount of cash — it can only be for corruption payments. Geddel Vieira denies involvement, of course, but his main defense has been to ask the courts to divulge who ratted him out.
Given the overwhelming evidence of a corrupt gang of PMDB politicians, and the concrete proof of the size of their actions, all as the result of police work, the gang’s obvious solution was to replace the policemen who dared to defy the country’s political overlords. Temer has done their bidding.
This is the second step in the gang’s campaign. The first part was the replacement of Rodrigo Janot as Head Prosecutor by an official widely believed not to be a crusader. Moreover, before Raquel Dodge was appointed, she consented to a late-night, off-the-record private conversation with Temer in the presidential residence —
supposedly to discuss the protocol details of her appointment ceremony.
Fernando Segóvia, the new head of the federal police, may in fact be an honest man, and may not be in thrall to the PMDB Gang, but he is known to be a protégé of former President Sarney (who has long been the behind-the-scenes éminence grise of the Gang). He allegedly has ties to STF Minister Gilmar Mendes, who has openly worked to protect Gang members from going to jail; many of these have endorsed Mr. Segóvia’s nomination.
Therefore, given the circumstances of his appointment, Mr. Segóvia faces an uphill battle to convince the press and the public that his principal qualification for the job is NOT his ability to discontinue, or at least hamstring, the Lava-Jato investigations carried out by the federal police.