I offer another in an irregular set of translations from a series that could be translated as “The VEJA Files,” by Brazilian economic commentator and journalist Luis Nassif.
At some point I will try to pull all these together, edit them properly, and present them as a gift to Nassif. Nassif attempts to demonstrate that VEJA magazine (Editora Abril) is a disgrace to the journalistic profession. I have arrived at that conclusion myself. These people are literally unbelievable.
In this, the last installment so far, from September 2008, Nassif narrates how Brazil’s top federal cop, Paulo Lacerda, came to be publicly accused (falsely) of maintaining bribe-stuffed offshore bank accounts. See also
Some added context: Since that time, Lacerda was transferred to the directorship of ABIN, the Brazilian CIA — where his promise to promote a housecleaning similar to that undergone by the federal police caused visible friction — then was removed from that post in the wake of questions about the propriety of that agency’s purported loan of manpower to a federal police investigation into banker Daniel Dantas. He now serves as a police liaison in Brazil’s diplomatic mission to Portugal.
In plain English, the man, despite his unequivocal record of measurable efficiency, was royally borked. A recent poll of Brazilian city dwellers showed that public safety, law and order, and impunity in white-collar and political corruption cases remain top concerns.
Meanwhile, the federal police delegado in charge of the Dantas case was replaced, and the judge hearing the case has been temporarily suspended pending a hearing on his impartiality. At the same time, a federal court issued an order freezing any further action in the case until that issue is decided in February — including execution of Dantas’ 10-year sentence for attempted bribery of a federal agent.
Translation — in haste, draft-quality — follows:
In its edition of October 20, 2004, VEJA magazine featured a bombastic cover story: “The Untouchables: A group of elite federal agents battle organized crime and corruption inside the federal police.”
In its edition of August 13, 2008, VEJA ran a cover story entitled “Spies Out of Control,” dealing with the very same federal police and the very same methods it had previously praised, only now launching vicious attacks on the agency.
What changed? — who changed? — between the publication dates of these two cover stories? The federal police? Federal police director-general Paulo Lacerda? Or VEJA itself? What led the magazine to mount one of its patented character assassination schemes in recent weeks against a federal officer whom it had praised to the skies not long before? What led VEJA to describe as an assault on individual liberties what it had not long before described as an unavoidable war on corruption?
In its latest edition (September 3, 2008) VEJA makes a fresh attempt to assassinate the character of Lacerda, based entirely on the alleged bugging of Supreme Court justice Gilmar Mendes and a senator serving on a commission of inquiry into pedophilia. A rather strange bug, moreover, given that the resulting recording reflected very favorably on the targets of the bug.
VEJA blamed Lacerda. All we have is the word of VEJA reporter Policarpo Junior (about whom see my chapters “The Spy and the Reporter” and “The VEJA Style of Journalism)” about the credibility of these reports.
On March 16, 2005, VEJA produced an enormous factoid — owned up to as such by its publisher, Eurípedes Alcântara (see my chapter “The FARC Affair”).
In this article, VEJA bases its conclusion — that the FARC donated R$5 million to the campaign fund of the PT — on the say-so of an [unidentified] ABIN agent. It is a highly improbable story, claiming that the money was funneled through 300 businessmen — as if it were possible to keep an operation of that scope quiet.
It was nothing but a whopping factoid. The ABIN agent cited a memo he sent to his agency on the subject. And said that the memo had been rejected. VEJA said it had interviewed Eduardo Adolfo Ferreira, who received the spy’s reports, on five occasions.
According to VEJA:
The colonel said the archives of ABIN contain audio recordings of FARC promising to help the PT, as well as copies of three money orders.
As I commented at the time:
Since it had access to the source, why did VEJA not insist on seeing those copies — even if it was with the understanding they were not to be published? What reason could they have had for failing to chase down a piece of evidence that not only would have grounded the story but would have constituted a grand scoop?
What it was, in fact, was nothing more than an elaborate exercise in hermeneutics, elevated to cover story status.
What calls particular attention to this practice is that in the follow-up story, whom does the magazine call upon as a source? Senator Demóstenes Torres, the same gentleman who appears on the supposed wiretap with Gilmar Mendes. Click here.
Last week, the spy from the FARC donation case said he was willing to tell what he knows to Congress, provided his testimony is taken in closed session. Faced with this possibility, VEJA consulted Senator Demostenes Torres (PFL-Goiás), a member of the committee looking into the story.
Torres said that, based on the story that appeared in VEJA, he would summon the spy to testify. He said he would also summon Col. Ferreira. Said the senator: “The statements of these two, if confirmed, reveal that ABIN appeared before the congressional committee and concealed the truth from lawmakers. This is a very serious matter.” Very serious indeed.
There was no follow-up to the story, no continuity, no investigation. The report was simply false.
On January 24, 2008, VEJA publisher Eurípedes Alcântara gave a lecture to students of the Editora Abril Journalism Course.
Questioned about the FARC cover story, he explained how the magazine had handled the story:
“VEJA merely said that ABIN was investigating. It never said Lula got donations from guerrillas. That is a mere interpretation.”
And now we have a new article, featuring the same cast of characters: VEJA, its Brasilia bureau chief Policarpo Jr., an anonymous ABIN spy — could it be the same one? — and Senator Torres. And the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Gilmar Mendes, who for months now has been featured in numerous reports about wiretaps supposedly targeting him.
Odi et amo
A glimpse at what lies behind the scenes of this love-hate relationship with the federal police should give us a better idea of how VEJA operates and the changes it has undergone since it began to act decisively in favor of Daniel Dantas in mid-2005.
The October 2004 cover story was the high point of a deepening relationship between the magazine and the federal police, not long after the election of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of the PT.
In order to deepen these ties, VEJA counted on the longstanding relationship between Policarpo Júnior — currently its Brasilia bureau chief and author of the latest attack on Lacerda — with police agents and officials, mostly from the intelligence area of the agency.
The article was bylined to André Rizek and Taís Oyama. The inside headline was “The federal police clean house.”
The article was highly complimentary.
“The process of self-purification the agency is undergoing is the fruit of a number of changes dating from the 1990s that are beginning to take hold now: First, a change in methods; and second, a change in values. In rejecting cronyism and turning its attention to its own ranks, the Federal Police has made it clear that it intends to expose its own wounds in order to heal them, rather than hiding them until they turn into an incurable cancer. If this housecleaning is good for the institution, it is even better for the nation.
(…) The success of this strategy has not paid only moral dividends: It is producing tangible benefits for Brazil as a whole, benefits that would be all the greater if other institutions also underwent a thorough housecleaning.
Take the case of Hong Kong. In 1970, the former Crown colony had an average per-capita income of $970 and was a classic case of inefficiency and corruption -– the product, in large part, of the promiscuous relations between police and the illegal gambling rackets. The government took two steps to turn the situation around: It legalized gambling and it undertook a thorough clean-up of the police, including hunting down corrupt officers and implementing intensive training programs. Today, the Chinese territory is considered one of the safest places on the planet, occupies 14th place on Transparency International’s list of the 133 nations making the best effort at combating corruptions, and boasts an average per-capita income of $25,430. “Hong Kong only became a prosperous Asian Tiger because it succeeded in ridding itself of its indecent levels of corruption,” says Daniel Kaufmann, economist and director of the World Bank’s corruption studies division.”
Writing stories that deify police officials in order to obtain exclusive information is not a practice viewed favorably within the profession of journalism.
VEJA, however, did precisely that, gaining the confidence of the ever discreet Paulo Lacerda, director-general of the federal police at the time.
Lacerda had made his name as the agent in charge of the investigation into Fernando Collor de Mello and Paulo César “PC” Farias, Collor’s campaign treasurer.
Retiring in 1993, he went to work for Senator Romeu Tuma, today a senator from São Paulo for the PTB. In1999, Lacerda played a key role in organizing and conducting investigations for a congressional commission of inquiry (CPI) into the narcotraffic, working alongside federal deputy Robson Tuma of the PFL.
When Lula took office, Paulo Lacerda’s name was naturally floated by the more serious sectors of the federal police and the judiciary, despite intense pressure to name someone from the federal police union to the director-general’s office.
The other candidate, supported by the trade-unionist faction of the PT and by former minister Jose Dirceu, was retired agent Francisco Garisto, then president of Fenapef, the National Federation of Federal Police.
At the time, senior federal police sent a message to Justice Minister Márcio Thomaz Bastos: if Garisto took over, the agency would be embroiled in endless internecine warfare. Bastos turned his back on Garisto and named Lacerda. It was a sensible choice.
Quiet in demeanor, Lacerda is what is known inside the agency, pejoratively, as a “paper-pusher” — or so a reporter with experience in this area tells me. That is to say, he is passionate about investigative work, documents, spreadsheets, hard material evidence and, above all, intelligence work. He represents a counterpoint to a generation of senior federal police still clinging to the old style of kicking down doors and torturing confessions out of suspects
Journalists soon noticed the difference, and the house cleaning that was underway. Police involved in illegal schemes were let go, violent misconduct was punished and, right off the bat, 44 corrupt police were arrested and fired. All of this in the first 20 months of Lacerda’s tenure.
It was at this point that VEJA ran its “Untouchables“ cover. The report was well-received inside the agency, which was pleased with its enhanced visibility, and VEJA reporters began to get VIP treatment.
They would soon receive a gift from Lacerda.
The Referee Mafia
In August 2005, the São Paulo state prosecutor and the feds began investigations that would lead to the discovery of a criminal organization that influenced the outcome of football matches through bribes paid to referees.
The leader of these referees was Edílson Pereira de Carvalho, a senior Fifa field judge. He and others received R$10,000 to R$15,000 per match in exchange for altering the outcome.
VEJA received all the data from the case, unrestricted access to wiretaps, and top priority in interviews with the police and prosecutors involved. At the time, VEJA did not seem to think its access to confidential information was a sign that police wiretapping was spiraling out of control. It was an accomplice and a beneficiary of this game.
As you would expect, the reporters assigned to the story were the authors of the “Untouchables” story: André Rizek and Taís Oyama. The pair had only to keep their promise not to publish until the investigation was complete — the only way to ensure that all the suspects, including top executives of major teams, would be caught.
VEJA, however, couldn’t wait.
Aware that other reporters had learned of the case, VEJA management ordered Rizek and Taís to publish what they had, trampling on their agreement with the feds. Paulo Lacerda asked the magazine to use good sense, since premature publication might blow the entire case. It got him nowhere.
In the September 28, 2005 edition of VEJA, André Rizek and Taís Oyama published an article headlined “Dirty Game”, with the cover line “The Referee Mafia,”alongside a photo of referee Edilson Pereira de Carvalho.
The story spoiled the ongoing operation. Only Edílson was arrested, and even then without all the evidence necessary to reveal the scope of the fraudulent scheme. Relations between VEJA and Paulo Lacerda began to sour at this point. The magazine’s privileges were revoked, its unrestricted access to case files ended, and the more significant cases began to be leaked to other publications
The Referee Mafia case, however, merely aggravated an already deteriorating relationship. A year before, another federal police operation had begun to worry Editora Abril.
Launched in October 2004, Operation Jackal investigated the activities of the risk-management consultancy Kroll, which was accused of being hired by banker Daniel Dantas to spy on Telecom Italia and ranking members of the Lula government.
At the time, Dantas, owner of the Opportunity Group, was in litigation with Telecom Italia over control of Brasil Telecom. As a result of Operation Jackal, Dantas was indicted for racketeering, active corruption, and invasion of privacy.
It was then that Dantas began to collaborate with VEJA. And one of the objectives of the banker was to break the back of the federal police and damage Lacerda.
With the help of Kroll, a spurious dossier was prepared, then handed over to VEJA reporters Márcio Aith and Mário Sabino in Rio by Frank Holder on the orders of Daniel Dantas. This according to the deposition of the two reporters to federal police official Disney Rosseti, in charge of the investigation into the dossier.
In the dossier, Dantas made a point of including Paulo Lacerda, who was accused of maintaining an offshore bank account worth €1.1 million. Rosseti’s inquiry was anticlimactic: Dantas was indicted for slander, based on the 1967 Press Law, but the press was not implicated in the case. Aith and Sabino emerged unscathed. Lacerda sued VEJA.
More recently, VEJA ran an article accusing Lacerda of having led Operation Satyagraha [against Dantas and co-conspirators] from inside ABIN, of which he was now the director, and of having access to all the telephone registers in Brazil — a preposterous accusation that only prospered because few people knew any better.
In 2004, Lacerda and VEJA were on the same side. In 2008 they are on opposite sides. Lacerda’s position, it seems, remains as it always has been. It was the magazine that switched sides.