Brazil rocked by yet another corruption Scandal

A millionaire fraud affects six electoral courts who moved 1.5 billion euros through questionable practices.

By LUIS MIRANDA | THE REAL AGENDA | NOVEMBER 1, 2012

Corruption has never been as closely associated with Brazil as it is today. That is not because Brazil wasn’t sufficiently corrupt in the past, but because given its new position in the world — as one of the fastest growing and most attractive markets for foreign investment — the country has been put more often than not under the magnifying glass. Brazil will host the FIFA soccer World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016 in what seems to be its launch into global relevance. Before, Brazil has only been know for its Samba, naked parading women and extreme poverty.

However, as the country becomes more visible on the world stage, Brazilians and the world are more likely to learn about the depth of the corruption pit hole both at the local and national levels. A few years ago, authorities in Brazil began investigating a new financial scandal involving electoral courts in the State of Sao Paulo. Police kickstarted what they call Operation Pretorium,a sting led by the Federal Police since since 2004.

The goal of the operation was to investigate allegations of fraud at six regional electoral courts, which in Brazil are named Regional Electoral Tribunals (TRE). One of the most serious cases is that of Roraima, one of the 27 federal states of the country. After 8 years of investigations police have apprehended at least six people in connection with the mis appropriation of 3,000 million reais (nearly 1,500 million euros) in a corruption scandal that spreads to five states, including Amazonia and Rondonia.

In a separate corruption case, the Federal Supreme Court  of Brazil — the highest court in the country — condemned 25 people including politicians, businessmen and bankers for their participation in the widely publicized scandal known as the Mensalao, a political scheme conducted by the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) or Worker’s Party, which included bribing other political groups to obtain votes that helped advance the party’s agenda in order to make government programs and policies seem successful.

During the investigations conducted under Operation Pretorium, the Federal Police discovered a group within the criminal justice system in six states, which inappropriately made use of  public money to pay for work and services that only existed in their imagination. The investigation began once Brazil’s Attorney General issued request to the Federal Police to look into what seemed to be a scheme to steal public money. The web of corruption included, according to police, several types of illegalities, including overpayments of allowances and administrative omission adopted to ensure that compensation for services was issued even when those services hadn’t been performed.

Although the investigation is still ongoing, it is already possible to determine the scope of the corruption in this new scandal. For example, police have detected ghost tours supposedly taken by judges, which were used to receive compensation and government workers simulating trips away their offices while still being in their cities. In one case, public officials benefited by being reimbursed for airfares paid by the Regional Electoral Tribunal of Roraima on the false claim that they had participated in official events inside and outside the country.

The scandal also includes payments made because of supposedly working overtime as well as for diverting public money for court elections in 2004. The list of fraudulent behavior continues with public workers being obligated to use their own money to pay part of their salaries to relatives of some judges who worked at the TREs or otherwise face the possibility of being fired without just cause.

Although police estimates that the total of money diverted reached about 1,500 million euros, police officers involved in the investigation say that the past 8 years have barely begun to scratch the surface of a scandal that could make the Mensalao fraud scheme look like an innocent mistake. José Francisco Mallman, a police investigator says that this is only the first phase of the investigation and that more revelations are likely to surface.

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Biofuel Industry Exterminating Guarani Kaiowá people in South Brazil

By LUIS MIRANDA | THE REAL AGENDA | OCTOBER 16, 2012

In how many ways can someone describe murder, corruption, crime, collusion, complicity to commit murder, thuggery, injustice? I struggled greatly to title this article because one or two lines cannot describe the shame I felt — even though I am not Brazilian — to see what the government of Brazil is doing to its native people. As you read this article, people from the Guarani Kaiowá indigenous tribe are being displaced from their lands illegally both by Brazilian Military Brigades as well as thugs hired by influential land owners in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul.

Although the prince of ‘social justice’, Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva, guaranteed the people of Brazil that he was in power to help the neediest, it was Lula himself who signed away the sovereignty of the country by allowing sugar cane multinational corporations to grab extensive portions of land all over the country in an effort to turn Brazil into the newest monoculture slave camp. In 2007 Lula da Silva signed an agreement with George W. Bush to boost biofuel production in Brazil. That day, Lula made it very clear who he really worked for. “This agreement may be a new starting point to the auto industry in Brazil and the world. It is a new beginning for the fuel industry in the whole world. I’d even say that this accord represents a new era for humanity.”

Before and after the signing of the agreement, all mainstream media began a conscious campaign to sell the public the idea that biofuels was the way to go. Like ignorant intellectual prostitutes, Brazil’s public figures appeared on TV programs and government ads preaching to the population the greatness of ethanol. From sports to entertainment shows, the prostitute media and their figures wrapped a green tape around the Brazilians eyes. From Gugu to Luciano Huck, every single known pop head took time from their TV shows to lie with a straight face saying that the biofuel industry would bring mountains of cash for everyone. But things did not turn out as they were told by these intellectual, ignorant prostitutes.

The only highlight of the birth of the biofuel industry in Brazil however, was the immediate displacement of some 40,000 indigenous people from the Guarani Kaiowá tribe, who now live on 1 percent of what used to be their land. The eviction from their natural habitat is endangering their very way of life. The Guarani can no longer plant food, fish or hunt for a living.

In the best case scenario, the Guarani Kaiowá are kicked out of their land in Mato Grosso do Sul by the Military Brigade every time a court determines that they have to vacate the land where them and their ancestors lived throughout all their lives. In the worst case scenario, heavily armed thugs shoot at their camps in an attempt to kill tribe leaders, so that the rest of the Kaiowá stop opposing their eviction. Nowadays, the indigenous live in a small area located to the south of the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, where large sugar cane plantations are erected around their small villages.

The dark side of the so-called green revolution, which has Brazil as the top producer of ethanol from sugar cane, has very little of that green, if any at all. Besides causing the illegal eviction of the Guarani Kaiowá, the plantation of sugar endangers the life of numerous species of plants and animals, whose habitat is being polluted every day by the smog, and sewage waters and waste materials generated by the plantation, burning and harvest of the sugar cane. Additionally, the Guarani Kaiowá have gone from being land owners to turning into land slaves. Given their inability to have enough land to develop their subsistence way of life, the Kaiowá are now slaves of the very same corporations that explore their land to produce ethanol.

The Guarani have to travel for hours to get to the plantations and work under the scorching sun only to receive miserable wages that aren’t even enough to survive. In an attempt to alleviate their lack of food, the Brazilian government now delivers basic grains so the Guarani Kaiowá can at least feed themselves. But the amount of food delivered is not enough. In fact, several Kaiowá indigenous children have died of malnutrition in the last few years due to the lack of decent quality food. On top of stealing their land, the corporations that now occupy Guarani Kaiowá lands illegally hire underage labor. They provide the children, who are as young as 14, fake identification cards with fake birth dates and ages.

The occupation of Brazilian lands by multinational corporations is not new. They started arriving in Brazil a while ago, after the government offered them tax exemptions and all the facilities it can come up with so that they ‘invest’ in the rising South American jewel. In the northeast, powerful individuals and corporations have acquired large portions of land to plant genetically modified corn, soy and wheat. Today, 76 to 80 percent of soy produced and consumed in Brazil is genetically modified. Much of this soy is exported to the European Union, but a lot of it is used for local consumption. As reported in numerous occasions, the environmental contamination with genetically modified organisms, due to consumption or the pollution of the air and the soil, has exponentially increased the incidence of disease.

In the case of the Guarani Kaiowá, they also suffer from the pollution caused by the massive plantation and harvest of sugar cane. Their land, rivers and air is heavily contaminated by this activity, which uses large amounts of water taken from local rivers and wells that once belonged to the Guarani Kaiowá. In Mato Grosso do Sul, the ancient tribe is public enemy number one. Even the high courts have ruled against their right to live where they’ve always lived. During the production of the “clean” fuel, the Federal Public Prosecutor of the state often sues the owners of the large plants because of their use of child and slave labor. But at the same time, law enforcement officials evict the indigenous people as often as those prosecutors rule in their favor.

With armed police on one side evicting them from their land and heavily armed thugs killing tribe leaders and shooting at women and children on the other, some Guarani Kaiowá have requested that they be put to death and buried next to their parents and relatives in what used to be their land. In a letter sent to the government, the Guarani Kaiowá plead for mercy and decry the violence with which they are treated by authorities and privately armed men. “… it is evident to us that the very action of the Federal Court generates and increases the violence against our lives, ignoring our rights to survive on the riverside and around our traditional territory Pyelito Kue/Mbarakay. We understand clearly that this decision of the Federal Court of Navaraí-MS is part of the action of genocide and historical extermination of indigenous people, native of Mato Grosso do Sul, ie, the action itself of the Federal Court is violating and exterminating our lives.”

According to the Guarani Kaiowá, the Federal Court of Mato Grosso do Sul is fueling the violence against the tribe. “We have evaluated our current situation and conclude that we will all die very soon,” reads the letter. “We camped here 50 meters from the riverside where already there were four deaths, two by suicide and two due to beating and torture of gunmen’s farmers.” Before ending the letter, the Guarani Kaiowá made it clear that the only way to survive is to be left alone on their land, which is where they can go about their lives with dignity and peace. Otherwise, they said, the state of Mato Grosso do Sul should simply officially declare their demise and their extinction.

“The ethanol industry and sugar cane industry are both booming sectors. We are going through a revolution,” says Geraldine Kutis, the International advisor for UNICA, the largest association of sugar manufacturers that operates in the sugar cane, ethanol business in Brazil. As many other endeavors, the ethanol industry is managed from Sao Paulo, the commercial capital of the country.  As explained by Ms. Kutis, the aim is to expand the green fuel fever around the world. That is why UNICA already has an office in Sao Paulo and Brussels and intends to open a new one in Beijing, China. The association also has a fourth office in Washington, DC, where it lobbies for the ethanol industry.

The government of Brazil has promoted and adopted policies that stimulate the production of sugar cane and ethanol, by giving incentives to large corporations and power groups to invest in the plantation and production. As Brazil becomes an attractive destination for foreign investment that wants to get away from the stock market and financial speculation, the production of ethanol and other commodities is shooting for the stars. “The sky is the limit,” says Kutis. But at what price? Brazilian environmentalists already blame sugar cane plantation and processing for the pollution of air and water resources around the country. According to Jeronimo Porto, a union leader in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, people who make a living off the land are simply soaking in a cocktail of pesticides and herbicides.

“Our air, our environment here is heavily polluted,” he says. Porto asserts that the arrival of new companies that open new processing plants as well as the expansion of sugar cane fields are compromising the health and well-being of the people. “It is terrible when sewage flows into the river,” says Porto. “The waste waters contaminate the river, kill the fish and causes a truly ecological disaster,” he insisted.

“The river is Earth’s blood, just as the blood we have in our veins. Without blood, no one survives. There is simply no way to survive without the river and without the forest,” says a Guarani Kaiowá leader. But water is not the only blood flowing through the land of Mato Grosso do Sul. Armed mercenaries hired by private interests have mercilessly fired shots at Guarani people. Some of the leaders have been killed, while women and children were wounded. In an instance, a bullet penetrated the back of a Guarani woman and exited through her breast, in what Roberto Martins, a tribe leader called a miraculous outcome. “Two gunmen aimed at us with powerful weapons,” he said. “They could have killed all of us.”

Most of the Guarani lands are towards the bottom of the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, and it is precisely there where the new plantations of sugar cane are appearing. “This means we will all be surrounded by gigantic sugar cane fields, and it will make it harder for the Guarani people to be able to plant what they eat,” says Antonio Brandt, professor at Mato Grosso do Sul University. The inability to plant their lands with the food they need to survive has made the Guarani Kaiowá almost fully dependent on the government to survive. Around 90 percent of them now receive food from shipments sent to them. But this aid is insufficient.

“Without land, the indian cannot live,” says Carlito de Oliveira, another tribe leader. “These food baskets are not going to keep coming forever. If we cannot plant what we eat, it will be very difficult to survive.”

For more information on the dire situation of the Guarani Kaiowá, watch the short film The Dark Side of Green.

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Jose Dirceu Convicted in Mensalão Corruption case

But the Brazilian Court abstained itself from even hearing evidence that may have incriminated former Brazilian president Luis Inacio da Silva.

By LUIS MIRANDA | THE REAL AGENDA | OCTOBER 10, 2012

The Brazilian Supreme Court convicted Jose Dirceu, a minister of former President Lula da Silva, for bribery in the process called Mensalão.

Along with Dirceu were also sentenced the then president of the Workers Party (PT), Jose Genuino, and treasurer, Delubio Soares. The three men who were the strong core of PT back in 2003, have been convicted of using taxpaer money to bribe four other political parties. The same political parties are now allies of the government, and several of their congressmen were — according to the discoveries made in the trial — bought off to support the first Lula government. The three convicted men will also be tried later for a crime known in Brazil as  “crew training”, the equivalent to forming and operating a criminal organization.

The Supreme Court had already convicted politicians from four different parties for passive corruption. On Tuesday, the Court dealt with the now proven corrupters.

The most difficult sentence to agree on, according to the press was that of Jose Dirceu, as the evidence against him was not as obvious as those of the others involved. One of the judges who acquitted Dirceu, Ricardo Lewandowski, warned that the acquittal did not mean that Dirceu was not the head of the plot, but he had not found in acts concrete evidence of his guilt.

Most judges, however, based their decision to convict Dirceu based on the theory of evidence along with the evidence presented by witnesses. They also turned to what happens in criminal organizations and the mafia. In these cases, they say, the bosses “leave no trace” and you have to get to the guilty verdict based on what they called “the crime as a whole.”

The conviction of the political nucleus that participated in the plot, whose responsibility, according to the indictment, fell over Jose Dirceu himself, the judges threw out the claim made by his legal defense that no such plot existed or that it was organized by the Workers Party in order to perpetuate its power in government. In fact, Dirceu’s defense team alleged that the Mensalão case was just isolated criminal behavior.

The local press in Brazil cites as a surprising fact that Jose Dirceu and his accomplices in the Mensalão plot were convicted by a Supreme Court in which 8 of the 11 judges, were appointed by Lula and President Dilma Rousseff. This fact debunks the argument that the trial against Dirceu and his cabal of criminals was just an attempt to ‘hurt’ the image of former president Lula da Silva. The result of the trial is not a move carried out by people from the opposite side of the aisle, but by PT loyalists who have identified themselves as Lula’s magistrate friends.

President Dilma had ordered on Tuesday morning his ministers not to manifest before the expected and Dirceu sentence.

The main stream press in Brazil anxiously expected an official statement from Lula, who in the past said that the Mensalão trial was a move stain his presidency. Lula has now said that the conviction of Dirceu is a sign of ‘hypocrisy’. The former president called Dirceu, José Genoino and Delubio Soares on Tuesday. As it is reported in Brazil, the calls were a gesture of solidarity to comfort the trio convicted by the Supreme, who always had Lula’s back during his 8 years as president of Brazil.

Previous to the conviction of Dirceu and the other PT members, Lula said he considered the live broadcast of the trial as a “political hit” by people who could not stand that a man like himself, reached the presidency of the country.

The loss endured by the Workers Party (PT) is not limited to the conviction of some of its most influential leaders. The significant defeat that the PT suffered last Sunday during the national election for Mayor and Councilmen all over the country is a clear sign of how the party has lost the favor of millions of Brazilians who were Lula’s unconditional supporters for 8 years and who also supported Dilma Rousseff, a woman that came to power mainly due to Lula’s sponsorship.

Leaving out the fact that the judges were not brave enough to at least hear accusations against former president Lula himself, it seems that the conviction of Dirceu is counted as a goal for accountability in Brazil and as a rare victory for The People in the match between them and the Mafia that governs over this country.

In a country like Brazil, it is not outrageous to ask whether the judges who convicted Jose Dirceu now have a target drawn on their backs.

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Brazilian Court convicts 12 politicians in Mensalão Scandal

By LUIS MIRANDA | THE REAL AGENDA | OCTOBER 2, 2012

The time has come for Jose Dirceu to face justice in the Mensalão corruption scandal.

The Brazilian Supreme Court convicted Monday afternoon 12 individuals from four different political parties which were government allies during the Lula administration. These convictions are part of the process known as Mensalão, a corruption case where 38 people were brought to trial charged with seven crimes including active and passive corruption, money laundering and gang formation.

So far the Supreme Court issued 22 convictions and four acquittals. The acquittals were issued due to what the court said was lack of evidence. Monday’s convictions relate to 12 politicians from the political parties known as PP, PR, PTB and PMDB, which up until today are close to the Brazilian government and members of the Executive power.

According to the judges from the Supreme Court these politicians, which include MPs and party chairmen, such as Roberto Jefferson, president of the PTB and informer in the corruption case since 2005, had created a corruption scheme that brought former President Lula da Silva to the brink of losing his mandate. Despite multiple accusations against Lula himself, the Court has refused to hear testimony from those who accuse him of knowing about the corruption scheme that paid political groups in exchange for political support.

These 12 politicians have been convicted of having bribed with money taken from public coffers, to amass support for the Lula government and sell their votes in favor of the bills introduced by the Government, including the reform of the Social Security System.

The dean of the Supreme, Celso de Mello, who sentenced the 12 politicians for the three crimes charged by the Attorney General, made a harsh reflection on the serious consequences of corruption by politicians who should be the guarantors of democratic ethics. Mello defined them as “empowered criminals.” He said that “no one lives with dignity in a state taken by corruption”.

Mello had question the very same projects approved by people being accused of bribery today. He remembered that, for example, the judgments issued by a corrupt judge is invalid. The Chief Justice Ayres Britto, quoted Ulysses Guimarães, while explaining that “political corruption is the cancer of democracy.”

In the next few days, the focus will be on the block of inmates that belong to the Workers Party (PT), who, when the scandal broke out, were the ones responsible for the corruption scheme. They include José Dirceu, Lula’s right hand man and two-time presidents of PT, the former party member José Genuino and the treasurer Delubio Suares.

The three are accused of bribery, and of being the corrupters of political allies and of forming an organized gang as they sought to perpetuate their grasp of power in Brazilian politics and the government.

The possible sentence for Dirceu is the trickiest because, according to political scientists such sentence would also taint former president Lula, who maintains that he did not know anything about the corruption scheme known as the Mensalão.

An acquittal of Dirceu, who still claims he is innocent of the charges, would indirectly absolve Lula who insists that the ongoing process in the Supreme is a way to put in doubt the projects that his government conducted during the eight years he was in power, which he says, helped 30 million Brazilians to get out of poverty.

The PT, one of the most corrupt organizations in the country, has called on its militants and social formations to take to the streets to “defend the attempted coup against Lula”.

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Was Brazilian ‘Lula’ Behind the ‘Mensalão’ Corruption Scheme?

By LUIS MIRANDA | THE REAL AGENDA | SEPTEMBER 18, 2012

Brazilian businessman Marcos Valerio de Souza, one of the people being accused of corruption during the trial for the ‘Mensalão’ scheme, has accused the former president of Brazil Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of orchestrating a vote-buying plot as part of the scandal that has rocked Brazilian politics in 2011 and 2012. During the depositions and hearings, several members of Lula’s cabinet were cited as involved in the Mensalão scheme together with bankers and businessmen.

“Lula was the head. He ran it all”, said Souza, who has been identified as a “luxury messenger” of the plot laid out by the president, as reported by the Brazilian magazine ‘Veja’. “Everything I did was well known by Lula,” noted the owner of two major advertising companies in Brazil. Souza has argued, according to ‘Veja’, that the Workers Party headed government assured him his sentence would be soft if he kept quite about the Mensalão scandal, in which the defendants received monthly payments in exchange for votes.

Meanwhile, Souza’s lawyer has denied such statements saying that his client has not spoken to the press since 2005. The Brazilian Supreme Court is accusing eight people, including Souza, of money laundering and embezzlement with monies that belonged to the Brazilian Workers Party (PT), which is the political party that launched Lula to the presidency. The Mensalão scandal involving members of the PT was originally made public back in 2005.

Despite the accusations directed at the former president, the Supreme Court refused to investigate Lula’s involvement, much less to charge  him with any wrong doing. Luiz Inacio da Silva ruled over Brazil between 2003 and 2010. The Court did accuse Lula’s right hand man and  chief of staff, Jose Dirceu, who is now one of the eight people accused in the case.

The process has been dubbed as the “trial of the century” in Brazil, a country plagued with corruption from top to bottom and left to right, where politicians and military often get away with their crimes. The Mensalão scandal spreads its tentacles through the politics and business worlds. There are 38 former Lula ministers, legislators, bankers and businessmen involved in one of the biggest corruption scandals in the South American nation.

Thus far, from the 38 defendants — all free — face charges of money laundering, tax evasion, corruption, embezzlement and formation of a criminal organization, among others. The sentences could be of over 30 years in prison. According to ‘Veja’ magazine, the PT had bought political favors to gain support in Congress. The scandal diverted some 101 million reais (40.5 million euros).

The PT had allegedly pledged to pay a large sum of money to legislators of the Brazilian Labor Party (PTB) to give their unconditional support to the government. This illegal agreement was announced following the breakdown of the alliance in 2005. Lula, who is not among the accused, has always denied having knowledge that members of his party and people close to the government had been paid to commit such offenses. In spite of the scandal, the leftist leader was reelected in 2006. Its popularity was always at high levels despite the conflict.

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