Sprawling investigations into corruption continue to shake up Brazil. Within the last 24 hours, two former governors of the state of Rio de Janeiro have been arrested. Anthony Garotinho, arrested yesterday, is accused of rigging his wife’s mayoral election in a cash-for-votes scheme. Sergio Cabral, arrested this morning, is accused of taking bribes from the construction companies responsible for public works projects in the state, notably some related to the World Cup and Olympic Games.
The state of Rio de Janeiro has been undergoing, for the past few years, a fiscal crisis more severe even than the one occurring at the national level. This has led to the occupations and closings of public schools and hospitals, as well as thousands of public employees not being paid on time, including doctors, teachers, police officers and fire fighters. The state is so cash-strapped that emergency funding had to be provided by the Federal government to ensure the adequate provision of security and other services for this summer’s Olympic Games after Rio declared a state of “financial calamity”.
The collapse of the state’s finances despite it housing the country’s second biggest economy and being the center of the (until recently) booming oil sector is largely thought to be the result of decades of bad management and corruption.
Early this morning, Sergio Cabral, the governor of Rio from 2007 until 2014, was arrested by the Federal Police as part of the massive “Car Wash” investigation into corruption.
He is accused of leading a group that pocketed bribes worth some 224 million reais (64 million dollars) from the construction companies contracted for public works projects, notably those related to the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games. Testimony from informants indicates that the governor allegedly charged 5% of the value of each awarded contract.
Many of the same construction companies have also been implicated in a similar but much larger scale corruption scheme at the state-owned oil company Petrobras, where an estimated 6 billion reais were lost to corruption. This was the original target of the Car Wash investigation, which began two years ago, but it has expanded considerably since as wide-ranging corrupt practices by the construction companies in question and the politicians linked to them have been revealed.
Cabral served as governor from 2007 until 2014, when he resigned in the wake of popular demonstrations against him. In a wave of protests that swept the nation in response to increases in bus fare, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Rio to protest the state’s poor public services and the rising cost of public works projects for the World Cup and Olympics.
Cabral has been active in Rio state politics since the 1990s, serving as a state representative and senator before becoming governor in 2006. He enjoyed high approval ratings for his first gubernatorial term and was easily reelected in 2010. Voters credited him in particular for helping to reduce crime in the city of Rio de Janeiro through the militarization of local police and the pacification of favelas, or slums, which were often controlled by drug gangs. However, the pacification project has fallen out of favor in recent years amid allegations of police brutality. The public’s perceptions of Cabral further soured as time passed and the promised improvements to the Rio’s infrastructure, including reducing pollution and improving public transportation, failed to materialize.
Cabral is a member of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party of President Michel Temer and was a strong ally of Workers’ Party presidents Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff (Temer was Rousseff’s Vice President and took over after she was impeached for budgetary crimes earlier this year).
Anthony Garotinho, who was governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro from 1992 until 2002, was arrested yesterday for his alleged involvement in a scheme to buy votes and rig last month’s municipal elections in the city Campos dos Goytacazes, located in the north of the state. Garotinho is currently serving as the secretary of the local government there, while his wife, Rosinha Garotinho, is the mayor.
The judge who ordered Garotinho’s arrest said that there is evidence indicating that he “commanded the electoral corruption scheme with an iron fist”. The scheme is thought to have involved the fraudulent use of a local welfare program called “Citizen Check.” Prosecutors allege that some 18,000 (ostensibly ineligible) new beneficiaries were registered into the program in exchange for their votes.
Allegations of corruption have long circled around the Garotinhos, a prominent political family. Anthony Garotinho has been involved in Brazilian politics since the 1980s, and has been dodging accusations of corruption for much of his career, including money laundering, electoral corruption, and illegal campaign funding, among others.
He first served as mayor of Campos dos Goytacazes in 1988. He was a contender in the 2002 presidential election and was thought to be considering another presidential run in 2018. He is an Evangelical Christian and radio personality. Throughout his career, he has had several different political affiliations, starting as a member of the Brazilian Communist Party, then joining the Workers’ Party, the Democratic Labor Party and, most recently, the Party of the Republic.
Rosinha Garotinho was the governor Rio de Janeiro after her husband, from 2003 until 2007, and was elected to mayor if Campos dos Goytacazes in 2012. A previous mayoral campaign in 2008 failed and both she and her husband were then barred from politics for 3 years by the Rio State Electoral Court for engaging in electoral corruption. The same court recently ordered her to step down as mayor, citing electoral fraud in her 2012 election. She remains in office pending an appeal to the National Electoral Court.
One of the couple’s nine children, Clarissa Garotinho, is currently serving in Brazil’s Congress.