By: Tereza Cruvinel
Returning to its original focus, Operation Zealots, an investigation into a billion-dollar bribery and money laundering scheme involving big business and members of CARF — a tax appeals authority with ties to the Treasury — has filed charges against the media company RBS, a regional partner of the Globo Organizations, with the federal Supreme Court.
The accusation came to the attention of the Supreme Court because of the involvement of Federal Tax Tribunal (TCU) magistrate and current federal deputy Afonso Mota (PDT-RS), a former executive at RBS with a right to a privileged forum because of his status as an elected official. The investigation into RBS is numbered 4150 and the rapporteur selected: Minister Carmem Lúcia. Another seven companies will be charged in lower courts.
Yesterday, social network posts by federal deputy Paulo Pimenta (PT-RS) said that Zealots would return to its original focus on tax fraud in such industries as media and beverages, among them the Itaipava brewery, as well as banks and automobile manufacturers.
With that, the case returns to its original mandate: to investigate a scheme in which members of CARF — the tax authority’s Administrative Council for Fiscal Appeals — received bribes in amounts which the Petrobras scandal figure Paulo Roberto Costa could only envy, in return for approving tax appeals that resulted in a loss of tax revenue of $R 20 billion [US$ 5 billion] between 2005 and 2013.
In recent weeks the focus of Operation Zealots had turned to the investigation of allegations that an executive provisional measure providing tax breaks for vehicle manufacturers in the Northern, Northeastern, Central and Center-West regions of Brazil had been “bought,” in 2009 (Lula Government) and 2011 (Roussef Government).
The investigation resulted in a search and seizure warrant targeting the company of the son of former president Lula, which in 2015 received payments from Marcondes & Mautoni, a company involved in the «CARF mafia» case, which the son’s defense describes as payments in exchange for sports marketing services.
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Investigations allegedly show … that RBS, a regional media monopoly in Southern Brazil, paid R$11.7 million to SGR Consulting to avoid R$ 130 million in taxes. Current federal deputy Afonso Mota was corporate counsel to RBS at the time. Minister Augusto Nardes is suspected of receiving R$ 2.6 million from the same consultant … through an intermediary in which he was a partner and which remains active in the name of a nephew of the congressmember.
Federal prosecutors assigned to the Zealots case say the scheme continues to surprise by its very magnitude. “The more we dig, the more we find,” said one prosecutor. … investigators now believe in the existence of a scheme prior to the ajudication of appeals by CARF, in which auditors with ties to the CARF mafia applied fines in order to create the conditions for a bribe in return for reducing or overturning a judgement by CARF itself.
The investigators also discovered the son of a CARF councilor who processed R$500 million in alleged bribery proceeds using companies registered in his name. The identity of this councillor has not been disclosed, but we do know that he was a supervisor in an important regional branch of the tax authority.
Another line of investigation by the Zealots team is to seek to identify the existence of million-dollar offshore bank accounts belonging to CARF members as well real estate investments, mainly in the United States.
To this end Zealots needs the help of the Justice Ministry’s DCRI — Department of Asset Recovery and International Cooperation — which is assigned to such cases, as it was, for example, in the case of corruption proceeds in the Car Wash case.
Filed under: Brazil