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Political Payola | The Devil and Zé Dirceu

Corruption:They say Brazil has changed. Has it really?

Has the New York Times done a reasonable job explaining to readers the ins and outs of the «monthly payola» trial that recently voted to convict three former senior leaders of the ruling Workers’ Party here in Brazil?

The question has been posed by such press pundits as Luciano Martins Costa of  the Ford Foundation-funded Observatório da Imprensa and the ombudsman of the Folha de S. Paulo.

Me, I thought that Simon Romero did a fine job outlining the debate and identifying the “remains to be seen” of Supreme Court jurisprudence established by the «payola of the PT» case. To wit, 

Some legal experts say that the trial accompanies important institutional advances in Brazil outside the court system, including a new measure cracking down on money laundering and the strengthening of both the Federal Police, an investigative entity comparable to the F.B.I., and the Public Ministry, a body of independent public prosecutors.

“If anything, the courts are still the greatest bottleneck to accountability in Brazil,” said Matthew Taylor, a scholar who specializes in Brazil’s legal system at American University in Washington. “It’s promising to see the court take on the mensalão, but this trial is the exception that proves the rule.”

Commentators from Jânio de Freitas to Mino Carta have insisted all along on the “tip of the iceberg” theory of the case.

That is to say, other politicians involved in other «monthly payola» schemes are waiting their turn. In one case, the «monthly payola of the PSDB», the infrastructure of the money laundering scheme is identical to that used by the mensaleiros of the PT — skimming cash off advertising contracts and laundering the money through fictional bank loans before distributing it to political allies.

In one such case, the so-called «Furnas list»

The authenticity of the list has reportedly been questioned by a U.S. consultant with a background in the Secret Service — as has the authenticity of the questioning of the authenticity.

Cynara Menezes and Leandro Fortes on the «bonfire of the hypocrisies» from this week’s Carta Capítal — an excerpt, translated.

In an obvious bid to demonstrate that the «payola of the PT» case is nothing exceptional, as many suspect, the Supreme Court held an extraordinary session on October 17. Its aim was to analyze and facilitate pending cases. There are thought to be some 190 lawmakers involved in criminal cases before the court, on charges such as vote buying, embezzling, conspiracy and bribe-taking and -paying, as well common crimes such as homicide, kidnapping, and drug trafficking.

In recent years, four federal deputies were convicted by the Supreme Court, but none have done time.

These numbers alone are enough to explain the sense of anticlimax on the part of those who, cynically or in good faith, see the case as a new dawn in the prosecution of corruption.

Has Brazil changed? Have we woken up suddenly in a Brazil more rigorous, more painstaking with regard to the use and abuse of public resources?

From here on out, will we be seeing exemplary punishment meted out to every and all corruption schemes, ranging from billion-dollar slush funds to stealing pens from the office supply cabinet? Will we overcome our embarassing performance in international rankings and become a paradise of honest dealing?

Answer: It remains to be seen.

Supreme Victory: The guilty verdict in the monthly payola case is a watershed moment for victims of corrupt politicians …

In the meantime, the spectacle of a constitutional court reduced to a court of first instance is difficult to grok, as is the appeal to the right of appeal to a court of higher instance.

At its current pace, the Supreme Court could spend the next decade sitting in judgment on «priviled forum» cases — subject to a constitutional mandate in cases of criminal wrongdoing involving elected officials.

This seems like an enormous waste of the judiciary’s time and attention. Imagine our own nine wise souls conducting a bench trial of Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff. And again: what would happen to the defendants’ right of appeal?

All that will be changed by the «monthly payola» trial are some of the methods identified in the case, and not the behavior of politicians.

Brazil, your politicians and their practices will change not one iota as a result of teh so-called «monthly payola» trial, no matter who or how many are found guilty. This is what the historical record indicates and what are more recent experience also shows.

“Brazil will no longer be the same,” or, according to those fond of predictions, “this case represents a paradigm shift”: These common media talking points are either naive or the product of a shared delusion.

What will change are some of the methods discovered during the trial. This very same sort of evil scheme was created and conducted by Paulo César Farias for the Collor campaign in 1989 and later used to manipulate municipal elections.  Down to the present day, this structure remains unchanged and uses the very same bank, the Banco Rural.

There is no end of continuity between the PC-Collor case and the motives of current and future defendants. In some well-hidden corner of this structure there is the «monthly payola of the PSDB», the precursor of the PT’s scheme. The lenience of the news media in the case of the PSDB is undeniable.

There have also been a number of elections involving self-enrichment in the form of real property … which have never been questioned by the congressional inquiry, the federal police, the Public Ministry or a judge. “It was a loan from my daughter,” said one such figure — an explication generally considered more than sufficient.

After every election, loans from family members continued to feed elected officials, and are sometimes carried over into subsequent political campaigns, such as this year’s mayoral elections. This is a vice reserved for the restricted circle of political practices and figures, where politics does in fact become an industry of self-enrichment.

All levels of society, however, are rife with the sort of entrepreneurial spirit of political actors which Brazil shares with Russia. In Russia, this spirit seduces the heirs of former bureaucratic and police elites. Here, for some time now, it is most active among government and political figures with a background in the business class.

This moral and cultural degradation of politics is in no way changed by such tightly circumscribed episodes as the so-called «monthly payola».

Reversing this trend will depend on many factors, such as the reform of campaign finances and the party system …