Brazilians Stunned By Death Of Supreme Court Justice Ahead Of "Explosive Testimony"

The death of Brazilian Supreme Court Justice Teori Zavascki who had presided over the sprawling "Carwash" corruption scandal, and who died yesterday in a freak airplane crash has sent shockwaves both around the globe and in Brazil, because while few in polite company will discuss it, it has opened the possibility of political assassinations as a means of "quieting" legal proceedings.

And as Reuters reports today, while the death of the judge will likely not derail the country's biggest ever graft probe, it will delay it, "handing valuable breathing space to President Michel Temer" who many have accused of being even more corrupt than his predecessor.

While there is no evidence yet of "foul play", the timing of the death is oddly coincidental, especially since the upcoming revelations could have had damaging implications for Brazil's still relatively new president Temer.

As a reminder, Justice Zavascki was killed in a plane crash on Thursday, "just weeks before he was due to unveil explosive testimony from executives at engineering group Odebrecht SA that is expected to implicate as many as 200 politicians in a vast kickback scandal" Reuters notes.

While the Police are investigating the crash in which a small, twin-prop plane that was carrying him plunged into the sea south of Rio de Janeiro during heavy rain, it is unlikely that they will find anything damaging.

And now, thanks to the tragic delay, postponing the fallout from evidence that could incriminate powerful political figures in Temer's coalition, and perhaps Temer himself, gives the president more time to push through reforms to generous pension and labor rules and restore business confidence in a country stuck in a two-year recession.

Temer has already lost four cabinet members to corruption allegations. Several other ministers and leaders of his PMDB party in Congress have been named in Odebrecht plea deals, raising concern about the survival of his government. 

"This can give Temer more room to move ahead with his reform agenda in Congress but Zavascki's death won't stall or change the course of the investigations," said Thiago de Aragao quoted by Reuters, partner at ARKO consultancy that advises corporations and banks on investment in Brazil. "It will just pause it for a while." Temer, who has himself been named by one defendant as a recipient of illegal campaign funds, has said he will rapidly appoint a new justice who, under Supreme Court rules, would take over Zavascki's cases.

"In the short-run, any delay works in Temer's favor because it will put off the instability that the new accusations will bring," said Roberto Dias, a constitutional law professor at the FGV think tank in Sao Paulo. "But it's bad for Brazil."

And since Temer will likely try to float a judge "friendly" to his cause, it will be up to the Brazilian Senate to confirm him. That process, however, will weeks if not months after Congress returns from its Christmas recess in February. The new judge would then need to get up to speed on the sprawling corruption investigation, dubbed Operation Car Wash, which is centered on bribes and political kickbacks from state-run companies, principally oil company Petróleo Brasileiro S.A., commonly known as Petrobras.

"Zavascki was ready to resolve Car Wash promptly and take decisions that would clear up who could stay in government or Congress and who had to go," said Ives Gandra Martins, a constitutional lawyer in Sao Paulo.

And, as Reuters adds, those decisions will be delayed until at least March or April, Martins said, preventing Brazil from turning the page on a corruption probe so massive and complex it paralyzed public sector construction projects and deepened the recession.

That, however, is too long for some Brazilians who want to know which of their leaders were embroiled in the scandal that involved at least 6.4 billion reais ($2 billion) in bribes for contracts with state-run enterprises. More details:

In Brazil, federal politicians and other senior officials can only be tried by the Supreme Court. Given the public's suspicion of politicians, the Supreme Court should opt for a rule that in urgent cases lets it name a replacement from its ranks, rather than wait for Temer's nominee, said left-leaning Senator Cristovam Buarque.

 

"Any presidential choice would be questionable," Buarque said in a telephone interview. "It has got to be quick. Brazil cannot wait another six months. We want to know what happened and who should be punished."

Resistance to Temer subverting the judicial process is rising and at least one justice on the 11-seat court, Marco Aurelio Mello, has come out publicly in favor of one of his peers immediately taking charge of Car Wash. Though he was appointed by impeached former President Dilma Rousseff, the 68-year-old Zavascki had gained a reputation as independent and willing to target corrupt politicians of any stripe, including Rousseff's Workers Party.

"In the short-run, any delay works in Temer's favor because it will put off the instability that the new accusations will bring," said Roberto Dias, a constitutional law professor at the FGV think tank in Sao Paulo. "But it's bad for Brazil."

Meanwhile, as Reuters concludes, "for Brazilians dismayed by the scandals that Car Wash has uncovered, Zavascki's death - whether an accident or not - was just the latest reason to lose faith in their institutions. "

"His death will delay the Odebrecht testimony and, depending on who takes over, the Car Wash investigation could take a different course," said Rio de Janeiro systems analyst Bruno Bokel. "I do not believe in our justice system."

And with yet another country's population "losing faith" in its political institutions, Brazil is now ripe to be the next nation where an "anti establishment" candidate sweeps control from the status quo and changes the course of local history in the process

Comments

No comments yet! Be the first to add yours.