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Payola and Precedent | Brazil’s «Big Monthlies», Plural

Above, last Sunday’s Veja magazine leads with a bombastic headline: The Secrets of Marcos Valério! The magazine quotes the ad agency executive and defendant in the «big montly allowance» case as saying:

They can’t just find the small fry guilty. Nothing rubbed off on Lula only because Delúbio, Zé Dirceu and I kept our mouths shut.

As many press critics observed, there never was any interview with MV — the information was obtained at second or third hand and attributed  to «friends, colleagues, and family members». Through his lawyer, MV denied saying any of the comments attributed to him to anyone.

At one point, O Globo blogger Ricardo Noblat said he had been informed that Veja would — implying that it could produce a set of tapes on which the article had been based. Veja‘s editors, he said had mumbled something melodramatic about a lock box to be opened in case of death by foul play — but nothing of the kind has been forthcoming.

In short, a classic Veja disinformation campaign. Once again, a word to the wary: These people are simply unbelievable.

The Estado de S. Paulo, meanwhile, reports on the larger perspective of the case:

Convictions in the case of the «big monthly payola» currently before the Brazilian Supreme Court will have direct consequences for defendants in other similar cases, such as the «payola of the Democrats», which operated in the federal district government of José Roberto Arruda, and the «payola of the PSDB», which involves the campaign of  Eduardo Azeredo for the governorship of Minas Gerais.

Azevedo was recently convicted on criminal charges related to the hacking of the voting panel in the Senate, violating the body’s secret balloting rule, an incident that led to the resignation of Azevedo and the late Antônio Carlos Magalhães to avoid impeachment.

Next week, the Supreme Court justices will confirm the theory that the money transferred to lawmakers from parties in the government’s base of support were used to buy support for measures in which the Lula government was interested. This conclusion, which holds that receiving this money in and of itself constitutes bribe-taking, is directly relevant to two other cases.

I am still confused on this point, but what they are saying, it seems, is that it does not matter whether the money was used for personal ends — straightforward embezzlement to buy your mom that Porsche she wanted  — or political purposes — feeding the campaign slush funds used by nearly all political parties.

The defense theory was that the second scenario undermined the thesis of a crime underlying the charge of money laundering, since electoral crimes from that period have worn out their statue of limitations.

The same reasoning will likely be applied to the case of the «monthly payola of the DEM», currently underway in the federal district high court, according to attorneys involved in the case. The federal prosecutor in chief, Roberto Gurgel, confirms this. And the same goes for the «monthly payola of the PSDB» — the embryo of the scheme mounted by the PT.

Termed «the embryo» because the same mechanism allegedly used by the PSDB and allies in 1998 and 2002 — a Belo Horizonte PR agency overbilling a public contract with false documents and siphoning the excess to political operators — was later allegedly used by the PT and allies.

«The legal theories debated in this case will have effects far beyond Criminal Action 470.  They will establish fundamental guidelines for criminal justice nationwide,» Gurgel said. In his view, the case should serve as an example of how to deal with scandals [sic] already underway and how to inhibit the buying and selling of political support in the future.

Political columnists are saying that you can already see the effects of this object lesson in this year’s elections. I will have to check that out.

«Brazil needs to understand, once and for all, that this kind of conduct is no longer in compatible with the advances in our democratic development. A finding of guilt in this case will provide us with a precedent that condemns the same practices [in other cases].»

Supreme Court justices interviewed by the ESP said that the mere act of receiving items of value with a promise of support in return constitutes bribe taking. It does not matter whether the recipients voted with the government or used the funds to pay off campaign debt.

What I was trying to say.

No date has been set for the trial of the «payola of the DEM» by the federal district court, and neither is there any date set for the trial of the «payola of the PSDB» by the Supreme Court … Joaquim Barbosa, the relator in the latter case, will hand it off to whoever is appointed to the seat left vacant by the retirement of Ayres Britto.

The PSDB payola case is well over a decade old. The DEM case dates back to 2009.

Studying Brazilian campaign finance and lobbying, as so many projects back home now do — OpenSecrets is one of the best of them — is difficult. With fitful progress in the direction of citizen access to data, perhaps some native entrepreneur will be able to mount a similar project and make it viable.

In the meantime, it is interesting to read the Cablegate cable on the variety of scandals: Do All The Corruption Charges Matter?

The answer is in the negatory.

Fresh scandal news appears daily in major newspapers, and there are now investigations into at least seven major corruption scandals involving politicians.

Experience suggests courts and congressional inquiries will mete out little or no punishment. The constant parade of corruption scandals involving government officials and politicians, often ending in impunity, results from factors that perpetuate the status quo, including weak institutions, the special status of politicians, and voter behavior.

Nonetheless, public and media indignation are beginning to generate pressure for greater government accountability, as public opinion increasingly finds unethical behaviors intolerable.

While scandals do not matter much in day to day politics, they are harmful to Brazil’s consolidation of democracy because they erode confidence in democratic institutions and the rule of law among youth, who have no memory of the military dictatorship.

While citizens must hold authorities accountable for their actions, substantial progress against corruption also will require going beyond the ad hoc measures that are fitfully implemented by the government to a serious effort to strengthen democratic and judicial institutions. There are no signs that such an overhaul will happen soon.

Wrong! Well, mostly wrong, I suppose., in the sense that one man’s «soon» is another man’s «timely». The current «payola of the PT» case is a decade old.

In any event, statistics published by the Federal Police provide strong signs of a powerful pushback against official corruption and white-collar crime. Let me see if I can find the infographic. The agency has been given a green light — «no matter who it hurts» — to use the full arsenal of tools against the Brazilian version of RICOs — racketeer-influenced and corrupt organizations.

Part of what may result from the current payola case, in fact, is a more clearly defined, more stringent definition of the evidence needed to prosecute criminal conspiracies successfully.

As some article I was reading recently — I forget where — noted, the prosecution of Fujimori for human rights violations relied on a novel theory of command responsibility.

In any event,  Lula I government pointed to this record with pride in their reelection campaign. I would say they probably do deserve the credit.

The number of such major cases opened between 2003 and 2010 increased ten-fold over the previous period, when the old-time colonels and caciques, like ACM and Sarney — well, actually Sarney presided over both Senates — still commanded  the government benches in the Senate and lower house.

It is true that Maluf — why does every cabbie in São Paulo tend to be a Malufist? — still walks the streets a free man. But then the Rome of Caligula was not Christianized in a day.

(The embassy seems to base its analysis on a regular reading of Veja magazine. It should try lending more weight to the excellent Congresso em Foco and the Agência Estado. And read  the planning ministry’s daily clipping file.)