Wednesday, June 15, 2005

BBC NEWS | Americas | Brazil launches corruption probe

This story of corruption in the Brazilian government really blew up here with Roberto Jefferson's testimony yesterday. I can't give a lot of details until I find someone who really understands what's going on. But the basic points seem to be these :

Roberto Jefferson is president of the Brazilian "Labour Party" (confusingly named because it's one of the more right-wing parties.)

He's recently been outed as heavily involved in a scandal of graft in the post-office. (People high up in the postal service have been accepting kick-backs to favour certain contractors)

In response he seems to have gone for mutually assured destruction, claiming explicitly that if he's going down he's going to take a lot of other people with him.

His claim, published in the "Folha de Sao Paulo" (one of the bigger broadsheets) is that the PT (Workers Party) who currently form the government, lead by the president, Lula, has been paying bribes to MPs from other parties to vote with them.

Brazil has a proportional representation system, so governments are always coalitions of smaller parties and there's a lot of horse-trading and offering of ministerial posts, but this is pretty weird. According to the BBC, Jefferson was, himself offered bribes, but turned them down. Gisel, listening to his testimony on the news thought he said he'd accepted them. He's claimed that many other senior politicians including leaders of other large parties, have also taken bribes.

Today, some of those people got a chance to cross-examine him in a live televised committee meeting. And there was plenty of dramatic shouting between him and these other leaders.

Jefferson is a consumate performer. He's a senior lawyer, and knows how to play a crowd, with a lot of irony and theatricality. Undoubtedly he's a grade 1 psychopath.

He also isn't offering much in the way of evidence. Though plenty of leaders of opposition parties are willing to believe him, claiming that his sincerity and the government's shifty responses are obvious enough.

Now the story has a few more complex twists.

Jefferson says Lula wasn't responsible and is innocent. He's blaming other senior officials in the PT, not Lula or the government itself. I don't think he's claiming government money was used.

What he says is, he went to Lula and told him this is what was going on. And Lula was a) shocked, and b) cried. After which the bribes seem to have stopped. The implication seems to be that Lula quietly put a stop to it after he found out.

Lula, and the rest of the PT deny everything.

Then there's the case of the secretary in Belo Horizonte. This woman was working for a private company which she claims was used by the PT to channel the money to the bribed MPs. A magazine tracked her down and interviewed her this weekend where she claims she saw suitcases of money taken in and out of her bosses office.

The boss in question fired her last year, and is currently pursuing a legal case against her, on the grounds she tried to blackmail him last year, about his role in money laundering. I'm not quite sure if I've got this story exactly right, because I'm not sure how / why you would take someone to court for blackmailing you without revealing whatever it was that they were threating to expose. So I guess there's something I'm missing. Nevertheless, it's all pretty fishy.

More, and clearer details as I work them out.

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