New police actions in Brazil target senior PT figures in corruption probe

Today was another busy day for Brazil’s anti-corruption investigation known as Operation Car Wash. Several senior political figures, predominantly from the Workers’ Party (PT) of suspended president Dilma Rousseff and former president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, were arrested or taken in for questioning. Here is a brief summary of the day’s events.

Today’s operation is an off-shoot of the original “Operação Lava Jato,” which has been run out of the southern Brazilian city of Curitiba for the past couple of years. Dubbed “Brazil Cost,” presumably referring to the cost of corruption, today’s events were the first run out of the city of São Paulo. In total, 11 people were arrested, 14 were taken into custody for questioning, and 40 searches/seizures were conducted.

The focus is on activities at the Planning, Budget and Management Ministry (MPOG). Specifically, it relates to expenditures with a service provider, Consist Software, worth R$ 100 million. The police has stated that 70% of this was diverted towards bribes or kick-backs. The crimes being investigated include corruption, money laundering, and influence peddling.

Some notable figures arrested today include:

  • Paulo Bernardo – Having served as Planning Minister under Lula and Communications Minister under Dilma, he is thought to have accepted some R$ 7 million in bribes. Bernardo is married to prominent PT Senator Gleisi Hoffman, who has been one of suspended president Dilma Rousseff’s most enthusiastic defenders throughout the impeachment process. She has not appeared in today’s proceedings of the impeachment trial. Beyond the allegations related to today’s events, Bernardo has been cited in plea bargain testimony of others involved in Lava Jato as having solicited illegal donations for his wife’s electoral campaign. His arrest today comes from the testimony of another PT politician, Alexandre Romano (known as Chambinho), who informed the police about irregularities at MPOG.
  • Valter Correia – Formerly Special Assistant for Modernization under Paulo Bernardo at MPOG, Correia currently works in the administration of controversial São Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad, also of the PT.
  • Joao Vaccari Neto – A former PT treasurer, Vaccari was already in prison for his involvement in the corruption scheme at state-owned oil company Petrobras.
  • Paulo Ferreira – A warrant was issued for the arrest of Ferreira, another former PT treasurer, although it is unclear whether he has actually been arrested. Ferreira was also named by Chambinho for receiving bribes.  

In addition, other prominent figures were taken into police custody for questioning, then released. They include:

  • Carlos Gabbas – As Secretary of Civil Aviation and then Minister of Social Security under Dilma, he was regarded as one of Dilma’s most trusted advisors and a personal friend. He notably once gave her a ride around Brasilia on his Harley Davidson motorcycle.
  • Leonardo Attuch – A journalist who runs a blog/news site called Brasil 247, which has received government funding and is known for generally providing favorable coverage of Lula, Dilma and the PT throughout the recent corruption scandals and impeachment process.
  • Carlos Cortegoso – Known as Carlão, he recently admitted to being the owner of an event company called Focal, which was previously listed as being owned by one of Cortegoso’s daughters and an ex-driver. The company received $R 24 million from the Dilma reelection campaign, second only to the R$ 70 million received by campaign strategist João Santana, who was arrested in March for hiding money in off-shore accounts. The Brazilian Supreme Electoral Tribunal previously found irregularities in the invoices for Focal.

Finally, search and seizure operations were conducted at the PT headquarters in São Paulo and Brasilia, as well as at the Curitiba home Hoffman and Bernardo and the home of Gabbas.