By Jay Forte, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Yesterday, June 3rd, the Federal Police (PF) in Brazil set the date for the president of the senate, Renan Calheiros (PMDB-AL) to testify and defend himself against allegations of corruption and money laundering. It is the second time Calheiros will testify in court regarding the mega-corruption scheme ensnaring much of the political establishment in the country, the Operação Lava Jato (Car Wash).
The new appearance in court follows the release of recorded conversations between Sérgio Machado, the ex-president of Transpetro, and Mr. Calheiros as well as former President, José Sarney, which seem to indicate that the two officials spoke about possible ways to interfere with the investigations. Machado who is being investigated in the Lava Jato scandal is said to have signed a plea bargain agreement with authorities two weeks ago.
The new summons for the President of the Senate was signed on June 1st by the delegates responsible for the investigation. The date was set following a decision of the Minister Teori Zavascki, rapporteur of Lava Jato in the Supreme Court (STF), which rejected the request made by the defense for Renan Calheiros that the statement could be a written submission. In the decision, Zavascki agreed with the arguments submitted by the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) and understood that the senator should be questioned.
Renan was listed in the whistleblower’s testimony provided by the former director of Supply of Petrobras, Paulo Roberto Costa. In July last year, Costa told the federal judge Sergio Moro, the senator had been a “representative” who negotiated the bribe with him. After disclosure of the testimony, Renan refuted the charges of the former director of Petrobras and said his relations with public institutions directors ‘never exceeded institutional limits’.
Regarding the recorded conversations, Renan defends the tapes by claiming he has a right to his opinion and denies attempt to interfere with the Lava Jato. Last week he called it freedom of expression, and denied it had taken steps to “embarrass” any of the branches of government. “Parliamentarians, everyone knows, deputy or senator, are elected to have an opinion. […] You can criticize a parliamentary by default, but never seek to criminalize someone’s opinion,” Renan said.
Two weeks ago, recordings made by Sérgio Machado speaking with PMDB leaders have been released and have already led to the departure of two government ministers, appointed by interim president Michel Temer. In one of the recordings, published by the newspaper Folha de S.Paulo, Senate President advocates a change in the law that deals with the plea bargaining to prevent prisoners cooperate with the investigations.
The mega money laundering investigation into state-controlled oil giant, Petrobras, dubbed Lava Jato, was started by the Federal Police in March of 2014 and has implicated people from across the political and business spectrum: from Former President Lula to former Chief of Staff Jose Dirceu and suspended Chamber of Deputies President, Eduardo Cunha, as well as top Petrobras directors.
The two years of investigations have rendered more than 93 convictions and returned to the government more than R$2.9 billion worth of proceeds from bribes and money laundering.