By Karen Shishiptorova, Contributing Reporter

José Sarney surrounded by the press, photo by Antonio Cruz/ABr.
José Sarney surrounded by the press, photo by Antonio Cruz/ABr.
RIO DE JANEIRO – Recently, The Economist called the Sarney case a “House of Horrors”. Rightly so, the case is unraveling with frightening speed while the Senate stands unaltered during recess. A sizable mathematical anomaly was revealed this month: ten thousand employees were put on the Brazilian government’s payroll to aid 81 Senators, costing the House and Senate nearly R$3 Billion annually.

The complex sequence of controversial events picks up with former Senate Chief Renan Calheiros who left after being caught paying child support for an out of wedlock daughter with undeclared hard cash. The envelopes were handed to the child’s mother by lobbyist Cláudio Contijo, of Mendes Júnior, one of Brazil´s top contractors with government contracts adding to billions. Senator José Sarney (PMDB-AP, Brazilian Democratic Movement Party) took over in February, to bring things to order.

Some time into his term, the press dug out some 660 “secret acts” that go as far back as 1995. Family members and friends were hired – some of which never showed up for work – and were subsequently given pay raises and extra hours for work supposedly done during the Senate’s recess. Mr. Sarney denied any knowledge of such acts.

Each shovel keeps bringing up increasing scandals pointing to Mr. Sarney and his family. He is now suspected of failing to report a bank account abroad to tax authorities, not declaring his R$4 Million house in Brasília to the Federal Elections Office (he dismissed it as a mistake as it is on his income tax statement), receiving illegal housing allowance, using Senate security staff to guard his private home in Maranhão, and of embezzling sponsorship money given by Petrobras to companies controlled by his family, to the amount of R$500.000.

His grandson, José Adriano Sarney, owner of one of the consulting services that provide payroll loans, life and personal accident insurance to Senate employees, has come under investigation as well.

Last week Mr. Sarney was caught in a lie on live television. Globo aired tapes of legal phone taps made by the Federal Police between him, his son Fernando Sarney, granddaughter Maria Beatriz and Agaciel Maia (the mastermind behind the “secret acts”) containing shocking revelations: Sarney pulled the strings to hire Henrique Dias Bernardes – his granddaughter’s boyfriend – penning himself the “secret act” back in 2008.

José Sarney on the Senate floor, photo by Antonio Cruz/ABr.
José Sarney on the Senate floor, photo by Antonio Cruz/ABr.
The Dias Bernardes scandal left no doubt that Sarney was not only aware of the acts, but was also an active player, prompting Senator Cristovam Buarque to declare: “The tapes had a devastating effect, we are melting.” Mr. Bernardes is scheduled to be dismissed next month.

This week more legal taps made by the Federal Police in 2006 surfaced, involving the Senator, his brother Ernani Sarney and daughter Roseana Sarney in yet more allegations of potential illicit acts, which were promptly denied. There are pleads for his resignation from opposing Senators, and Twitter hosts a “Get out Sarney” thread, but from his private island at Maranhão, he stated that he will not resign.

President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva has been a fierce defender of Senator Sarney, who is his ally on the Petrobras CPI (Parliamentary Investigation Committee) to investigate possible irregularities within Brazil´s state oil company.

Without support from Sarney´s PMDB, the CPI can dig deep dirt, harming Lula´s plan to be succeeded by Ms. Dilma Roussef, his Chief of Staff. Amidst the heat the general consensus is that Mr. Sarney will face charges of parliamentary conduct breach.

The Sarney clan is deeply entrenched in Brazilian politics, having ruling the state of Maranhão for decades, in what critics perceive as a feudal colony where they have actually named several public buildings after themselves. According to Veja magazine, “the result of such domain can be seen by the naked eye: the Sarney family has millions, but Maranhão leads the ranks of underdeveloped states.”

Mr. Sarney is an attorney and writer, member of Academia Brasileira de Letras (Brazilian Literary Academy) has served as both Governor and President of Brazil (1985-1990) and also served many years as State Counsel.


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