Trouble for former, current, and potentially future Brazilian presidents

The 23rd phase of the Car Wash corruption probe was kicked off today, centering on the Worker’s Party (PT) marketing specialist who worked on both Lula’s and Dilma’s presidential campaigns, as well as presidential campaigns in Venezuela (for Hugo Chavez and Nicolás Maduro), El Salvador, Angola, and the Dominican Republic. A warrant has been issued for the arrest of João Santana for allegedly receiving payments of $7.5 million dollars to offshore bank accounts from the construction company Odebrecht, which is also being investigated as part of the Car Wash probe.

This is the closest the investigation has come to Dilma herself so far, with opposition leaders suggesting that it will be very difficult for her to proclaim ignorance of the illicit dealings of one of her closest campaign advisers. The probe also increases the likelihood of serious repercussions from the investigation of funding improprieties in her presidential campaigns, including the potential invalidation of her victory, which would lead for new elections to be called.

Last week, former president Lula got himself out of some hot water, at least for now. He and his wife are formally being investigated with regard to their potentially undeclared ownership of some suspicious properties, which are thought to have been given to the couple as bribes from major companies that benefit from government contracts. He is accused of concealing his ownership a luxury beachfront apartment in the city of Guarujá and a country house in the area of Atibaia, both in Sao Paulo state. The Guarujá property was allegedly renovated for free (with renovations worth half a million dollars) to his wife’s specifications by a large construction company (OAS) that usually engages in major infrastructure projects, such as subways or oil platforms, and that has been named in the Car Wash probe into corruption at Petrobras. The property in Atibaia, meanwhile, was also renovated suspiciously to suit the tastes of Lula’s family and even had its own telephone tower installed, as a “gift” from the telecom company Oi.

Lula and his wife were supposed to be questioned by prosecutors in Sao Paulo on Wednesday. However, a little known congressman entered a last-minute injunction to suspend the hearing, and the judge sided with him. Today, similar allegations of real-estate-related improprieties, among others, from the 1980s and 90s resurfaced.

Lula’s approval ratings are worse than ever, with 61% of voters saying that they would not vote for him in the future, the worst score among the 6 polled potential candidates (it is thought that he will run for president again in 2018). Only 19% of people would definitely vote for him.

Another former president, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, has also come under suspicion lately after his former mistress claimed that he funneled money to her abroad illegally, through the company Brasif, in the form of a fake employment contract. Cardoso, widely known as FHC, is generally admired by Brazilians for helping turn the country around by implementing the Real currency, which helped to ward off hyper-inflation in the 1990s. A distinguished sociologist, his technocratic government is thought to have laid in place the sound policies that served as the foundation for Brazil’s economic growth in the 2000s. He denies any wrongdoing. The Ministry of Justice has stated that it will look into these allegations and determine whether to pursue an official investigation.

Taking advantage of these new scandals, Vice President Michel Temer has taken the opportunity to announce his desire to run for president in 2018