Opinion, by Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – This week’s news, and that of the next few weeks, will be concerned with the “mensalão” scandal and the Brazilian Supreme Court’s conducting the trial. The Curmudgeon will ask a few questions and answer most (but not all) of them.

The Curmudgeon, also known as Michael Royster.
The Curmudgeon, also known as Michael Royster.

Q: What was the mensalão?
A: 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 public money?
A: The scheme involved the granting of lucrative government contracts to private companies, which then re-distributed the funds received to the politicians. In addition, companies “borrowed” money from banks with government ownership, but never had to pay them back.

Q: What crimes are alleged?
A: Among others, racketeering (“formação de quadrilha”). A “quadrilha” is usually translated as “gang”, but it also means the four members of a square dance team. The alleged “Gang of Four” were José Dirceu, José Genuíno, Delúbio Soares and Marcos Valério. Dirceu was Lula’s Chief of Staff, José Genuino was the President of PT, Delúbio was PT Treasurer and Valério was the company owner who saw to the operational aspects.

Q: What do the “Gang of Four” claim?
A: Dirceu says that he never knew anything about any scheme, he was too busy being Lula’s Chief of Staff. Genuino says he was President of PT, and only did politics, with no head for finance. Delúbio says all he did was use “caixa dois” or off-books money, to finance the 2002 PT campaign. Valério says he too only did “caixa dois”, never bought any votes.

Q: Why do some of the Gang of Four admit to using “caixa dois”?
A: Even though it’s a crime to do so, the statute of limitations has run and they cannot be punished.

Q: Statute of Limitations?
A: It is customary in criminal law worldwide that the government only has a certain period in which to bring to trial persons accused of criminal activity. If it fails to do so, the limitations period has expired and no punishment can be imposed–the lesser the offense, the shorter the limitations period. The point of a limitations period is to force the government to concentrate on more serious and more recent crimes.

Q: How does this work in relation to the Gang of Four?
A: Under Brazilian law, when (if) the court convicts a defendant, it imposes a sentence, which can vary in length. The prosecution in Brazil learned of the mensalão in 2005 and only now are the defendants being brought to trial.

Q: Why did it take so long?
A1: It’s not easy to collect evidence. A2: Political pressure was put on the prosecutors to delay. A3: Both of the above.

Q: What is the most likely decision?
A: The Curmudgeon thinks most defendants, including the “Gang of Four”, will be adjudged guilty of less serious crimes, meaning they will go unpunished, save (perhaps) in the light of public opinion. That will be a very political decision by a very political court, most of whose members were appointed by Lula.

Q: Did Lula know?
Q: Did Dilma know
A: Don’t ask, don’t tell.

Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, moved here thirty-plus 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!)


  1. Hi Michael,

    I’m not really into politics, and I haven’t been following this “mensalão” trial very closely, but it seems to be on the news every day so it must be important. Thanks for shedding some light on the matter. I’ll be able to follow it from now on :)


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