By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter

SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – The death of Supreme Court Justice Teori Zavascki on Thursday (January 19th) has left Brazilians wondering what will happen to the largest corruption scandal investigations ever undertaken by federal prosecutors.

Brazil, Rio de Janeiro,Supreme Court Justice Teori Zavascki died when his plane crashed along Rio de Janeiro's coastline
Supreme Court Justice Teori Zavascki died when his plane crashed along Rio de Janeiro’s coastline, photo by Jose Cruz/Agencia Brasil.

Zavascki was killed when the small plane he was in crashed into the waters near Paraty, in the Southeastern coastline of Rio de Janeiro state.

Zavascki was overseeing much of the Lava Jato (Carwash) investigation, including the plea-bargaining processes of the 77 executives from the Odebrecht group.

“Minister Teori Zavascki represents one of the high points in the history of our Justice. His work will remain forever, and his presence and example will remain a path from which we will not be diverted, aware that people die, their works and examples do not,” said the note released by Carmen Lucia Rocha, Supreme Court Chief Justice.

Preliminary reports are calling the plane crash an accident, since due to the rain visibility was nearly zero when the plane’s pilot tried to land at the Paraty airport, but authorities have already stated that a full investigation into the crash will be conducted.

The fear now among many Brazilians and international observers is that the mega Lava Jato investigation may be undermined with the death of the Supreme Court Judge.

“It is imperative that the work of the Lava Jato Task Force goes on and that all those implicated are brought to justice, no matter how powerful they are,” said the board chairman of Transparency International, José Ugaz. “There must be a quick appointment of a competent and committed new Supreme Court Justice.”

Under internal rules of the Supreme Court, in case of death or removal of a judge, the cases and proceedings under the judge’s responsibility must be inherited by the person who occupies the vacancy. In this case, the proceedings will be passed to a Supreme Court Justice to be appointed by President Michel Temer.

Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, Rescuers trying to lift plane carrying Supreme Court Justice out of the waters near Paraty
Rescuers trying to lift plane carrying Supreme Court Justice out of the waters near Paraty, internet photo reproduction.

Temer’s appointee to Zavascki’s seat in the Supreme Court will have to be approved by Brazil’s Senate, which has already found many of its members implicated or under investigation in the Lava Jato scandal.

There are, however, exceptions to the rule, where the court deems the cases are urgent, according to legal experts. Analysts say that if the Supreme Court Chief Justice is not able to redistribute Zavascki’s case load now, President Temer would have the power to dictate the future direction Lava Jato investigations. Temer is from the PMDB party, one of the political parties most hindered by the corruption investigation.

“In my view, the urgent procedures under the responsibility of Teori Zavascki must be immediately redistributed,” said Supreme Court Justice Marco Aurelio Mello in an interview with BandNews FM.

“Without him, there would have been no Lava Jato Operation,” said Sergio Moro, the federal judge who has been one of the faces of the Lava Jato investigations.

Adding, “I hope the legacy of his serenity, seriousness and continuous work in law enforcement regardless of the interests involved, even if powerful [interests], is not forgotten.”


  1. I find it highly ironic and very suspicious that Supreme Court Justice Teori Zavascki died suddenly in “another” plane crash. Just before he was scheduled to open his investigation into the Lava Jato scandal and Lula. This is a tragedy for his family and for the people of Brazil.

    Now, more than ever, steps must be taken to ensure Lula is not able to maneuver into any position where he can again be part of the government. He is under criminal investigation and until his name is unequivocally cleared of all wrongdoings he MUST NOT hold any political office.

    Special investigation must be conducted into this disaster to absolutely rule out any criminal involvement into Supreme Court Justice Teori Zavascki’s death. It is vitally important to find another Justice who will take up the mantle and conduct an honest and thorough investigation of all evidence. Michel Temer should not be permitted to step in and take over direction of Lava Jato.

    There is just far too much at stake for the future of Brazil to demand anything less.


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