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  • A protester holds a sign that reads "Out with Temer" in reference to Brazil

    A protester holds a sign that reads "Out with Temer" in reference to Brazil's installed President Michel Temer during a protest in Rio de Janeiro, Sept. 4, 2016. | Photo: Reuters

Published 25 October 2016

The Senate politicized Operation Car Wash to torpedo the Workers' Party in the next election. Now that senators face prosecution they want it derailed.

Brazil’s Senate may be set to launch an inquiry into the so-called “excesses” of the country’s flagship corruption investigations, known as Operation Car Wash, that have targeted dozens of politicians and business elites for bribery and fraud linked to the state-run oil company, Petrobras, a Brazilian journalist reported Tuesday.

Ideology, Politics and Manipulation

Brazilian author and journalist Laurez Cerqueira, who also works in the Congress, wrote in a blog post that the Senate is a “step away from” setting up a special parliamentary commission to investigate Operation Car Wash, highlighting political elites’ discontent with the anti-corruption campaign that was first revealed in damning wiretaps earlier this year.

“People close to the president of the Senate are saying that (Senate head) Renan Calheiros is unhappy with Judge Sergio Moro, with the Minister of Justice Alexandre Moraes, and even more with (Attorney General) Rodrigo Janot,” Cerqueira wrote, pointing specifically to the recent detention of the Senate police chief and three other officers for thwarting corruption investigations as a flashpoint.

On Monday, Calheiros criticized the federal police operation to arrest the four officers as an “invasion” and accused Minister of Justice Moraes of “acting like a police chief.” The officers, including Senate Police Chief Pedro Carvalho, were detained Friday for hindering the corruption probes and effectively shielding senators from investigation. Moraes had argued that the officers “went beyond” their duties. Calheiros announced he planned to go to the Supreme Court Tuesday to address what he sees as a problem with the division of state powers.

In his blog, republished on Brazil 247, Cerqueira argued that the dispute could have a “predictable ending” in the coming months, and he anticipated it would mean “limits on the activities” of Judge Sergio Moro, overseeing Operation Car Wash, Attorney General Rodrigo Janot, and the federal police, who have carried out detentions and searches targeting dozens of politicians.

Brazil: Get Lula! Now! Or Else…

Cerqueira’s report about the anticipated probe into the “excesses” of Operation Car Wash further solidify speculation about the motivations underlying the impeachment of ousted President Dilma Rousseff, widely condemned as a parliamentary coup. Though her opponents long painted the impeachment as a bid to root out government corruption, Rousseff was impeached over allegations that she used common accounting tricks to manipulate the budget — charges far tamer than the massive fraud accusations swirling around many of her rivals, including unelected President Michel Temer and Senate chief Calheiros, both cited in Operation Car Wash.

If the Senate moves to take aim at the central corruption investigations, it would swiftly fulfill the predictions of critics of the impeachment process that argued that Rousseff’s ouster had more to do with protecting corruption that prosecuting it.

Indeed, Calheiros — who Cerqueira singled out leading the charge to undermine Operation Car War — was caught on tape in a bombshell recording released in May saying that he wanted to halt the investigations. The recordings, released as part of a plea deal for a former state oil executive, feature Calheiros saying that politicians are “afraid” of Operation Car Wash and that he wanted to change the plea bargain rule — a cornerstone of the investigations — as a way to put a stop to the anti-corruption crusade. Calheiros also said he had planned to “negotiate” with the Supreme Court over guaranteeing Rousseff’s “transition.”

The recording — released alongside other wiretaps implicating top Rousseff rivals in similar plans to scheme with the Supreme Court to ensure her ouster and stop Operation Car Wash investigations — offered damning evidence about the true goals behind the impeachment process, but didn’t abate support for her ouster in Congress, where a majority of lawmakers face corruption charges.

Critics have argued that removing Rousseff from office and installing a neoliberal government was the first phase of a multi-faceted “coup” aimed at institutionalizing neoliberal economics and shielding political and economic elites from prosecution while politicizing investigations to sully the names of left-wing politicians.

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