By Pedro Widmar, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – A historic turn of events occurred on Thursday, February 11th which marked the first time in twenty-five years since the end of the Military dictatorship that an elected governor was detained during his mandate.
José Roberto Arruda (currently without a party), the governor of the federal district of Brasilia (DF), is currently being held by Brazil’s Federal Police on charges of attempting to interfere in the ongoing investigation against him and attempted bribery of witnesses.
Brazil’s constitution gives serving politicians immunity, which has kept Arruda out of jail since November when the case against him was first made public. At the time the investigation known as “Pandora’s Box” used hidden camera footage to bring light to a scheme operated by the governor to take bribes from contractors in exchange for jobs.
The money was allegedly split between some of Brasilia’s key politicians in what has been dubbed the “Mensalão do DEM.” The name is a reference to the Lula administration’s Mensalão scandal in 2005.
But Arruda’s situation took a turn for the worse when Brazilian journalist Edson dos Santos collaborated with the Federal Police to expose an attempt by the governor to bribe him. The Governor’s advisers have denied this. But as the act constitutes an attempt to interfere in an ongoing investigation, motions where filed and granted to imprison Arruda.
The governor, who is officially on leave from office and already facing impeachment proceedings, has claimed that renouncing his position is not an option. On February 18th the DF’s Constitution and Justice Committee will vote on the constitutionality of his impeachment. But as the house passed all three motions for impeachment made against Arruda unanimously last Friday, the outcome of the case is considered by some to be predetermined.
The scandal has sparked in-numerous actions from civic entities. The DF branches of the CUT (Central Workers Union), OAB (Brazilian Order of Attorneys), and the PT (Workers Party) have all filed for the impeachment of Arruda’s vice governor, Paulo Octavio, who was also incriminated in the Pandora’s Box investigation.
Octavio, whose case is hard to predict at this point due to the hesitation of politicians to position themselves in support of him, is the acting governor of the DF.
As events unfold, more and more names have been brought into the mix. Aside from Arruda six more people have been imprisoned. With the issue inciting public demonstrations in the streets and even inspiring Carnaval blocos, Arruda’s arrest is a significant event in Brazilian politics.
As the Rio Grande do Sul Senator Pedro Simon stated only hours after the imprisonment, “It could signify the beginning of the end for corruption in Brazil.”