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Brazil: A Falling Castle (and Congressman) in Two Acts

A castle is not a building that most people imagine, or are used to, seeing around Brazil. There is one, though, in the state of Minas Gerais and it is called Monal Lisa Castle. Its owner? The Federal Deputy, now dubbed Edmar “Castle” Moreira. See more pictures at Acerto de Contas gallery.

First Act: “In Brazil, he who is not a scoundrel one day, is a scoundrel the next”

This quote, by Brazilian dramatist, journalist and writer Nelson Rodrigues, was one of many picked out by Lingua de Trapo [pt] blog to illustrate the surreal story that has had the blogosphere on the edge of its seat in the past week. After the news of his R$25 million (US$10.8 million) castle broke, Federal Deputy Edmar Moreira has lost his place in the right-wing Democrats party and his role as a congressman is at risk, because of the attention his property has suddenly regained.

Regained is the right word here: the castle was featured 10 years ago in Veja, one of most popular Brazilian magazines, in a story about the property's super-sized features [pt]. Bloggers ask: what could be more surreal, an awkward 7,500 square meter mansion in a lunatic medieval style in the middle of a tropical country? That this piece of ‘old’ news has just become the latest national scandal, prompting an investigation into the fact that the property has not been declared to the Electoral Justice or the tax office? Or the fact that the sumptuousness of the mansion went unnoticed by its many visitors, including fellow congressmen? Or even, why these questions are only now, after a decade, being investigated? They also speculate on some possible answers.

Screen shot of Veja Magazine website, In 1999, it was cool to have a “fabulous castle”.

Let’s rewind the tape slowly, so that we can gain a clearer impression of our character. He was elected by fellow congressmen [pt] the Vice-President and Ethics Magistrate of the Chamber of Deputies on Monday February 2nd, just a day before the castle became “breaking news”. Edmar Moreira, however, lasted no more than a week in the role which has as one of its duties monitoring “parliamentary decency”, coincidentally after proposing radical changes to the way the house deals with deputies accused of violating its principles. He resigned from the position this Monday, February 9th, over the many allegations against him: from tax evasion to mishandling of public funds.

Bloggers have been speculating that Mr. Moreira, an ex-police officer who almost overnight transformed himself first into a well-off security tycoon and then a serially re-elected deputy, decided to rehearse an unusual move on the Brazilian political scene. This move would bring to an end an old Brazilian practice that makes dealing with corruption charges against Congress members slow and inefficient. He seemed not to remember that those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. Palida y poderosa [pt] assumed that not too many people were happy with his suggestions:

“O mais engraçado é que fiquei com a impressão de que o tal castelo só veio à tona de novo após o deputado Edmar M. ter proposto a transferência para o Poder Judiciário da competência pelo julgamento de parlamentares que feriram o lendário decoro parlamentar.

Abaixo, o texto que retirei da Agência Câmara (Consolidada – 04/02/2009 14h44 Líder do DEM defende que a Câmara continue julgando deputados):

“O novo líder do DEM na Câmara, deputado Ronaldo Caiado (GO), afirmou nesta quarta-feira que o partido é contra a sugestão de transferir da Câmara para o Poder Judiciário a responsabilidade por julgar deputados que tenham ferido o decoro parlamentar.

A proposta foi apresentada na terça-feira (3) pelo corregedor da Casa, deputado Edmar Moreira (DEM-MG), durante entrevista na TV Câmara. Para Moreira, a Câmara deve apenas instruir o processo contra o deputado e enviá-lo ao Judiciário, que analisaria o caso.”

“The funniest thing is that the infamous castle has only regained media attention after Deputy Edmar M. proposed to transfer to the Judiciary system the competence of judging congress people who disrespect the legendary “parliamentary decency”. See the below piece of news that I got from Chamber's News Agency (On 04/02/2009 14h44 Leader of DEM defends that the Chamber keeps judging deputies) [pt]:
The new leader of DEM in the Chamber, deputy Ronaldo Caiado (state of Goias), stated last Wednesday that his party is against the suggestion of transferring the responsibility of judging deputies who disrespect parliamentary decency from the Chamber to the Judiciary system.
The proposal was presented last Wednesday (3) by the Chamber's ethics magistrate, Deputy Edmar Moreira (DEM-Minas Gerais), during an interview for Chamber TV [pt]. According to Moreira, the Chamber should only produce and provide evidence against the deputy for the Judiciary, which would then analyze the case.”
“Good bye, Edmar! You are too old fashioned”, a charge by Thomate. “It is impossible to be ridiculous inside a Mercedes”. Another quote by Nelson Rodrigues provided by Lingua de Trapo, who adds “but I am not sure about inside a castle in São João de Nepomuceno“.

However, for the author of Lingua de Trapo [pt] blog, there is a different explanation for this tragicomic plot for his removal from the position. The blogger speculates that his backstage deals, which led him to be elected Vice-President of the Chamber of Deputies without his own Party's support, might have led the Democrats to start to fire on him:

“Nada me tira da cabeça que foi de dentro do próprio DEM que foi aceso o pavio para explodir o Deputado Edmar Moreira, pois pelo que se tem ouvido e lido, sua ascenção do baixo clero à Mesa Diretora da Câmara foi, digamos assim, fruto exclusivo de sua própria ambição e de arranjos políticos feitos à revelia das próprias lideranças do seu partido. Se observado o histórico pessoal, empresarial e político do Deputado, que agora surge com maior riqueza de detalhes, minha tese começa a fazer algum sentido.”

“I can't help but think that the fuse to blow up the deputy Edmar Moreira was lit inside the DEM itself, according to what has been heard and read, his progression from the low clergy to the Chamber's Board of Directors, let’s say, a result of his exclusive ambition and underhand political deals done against the will of the leadership of his party. If we observe the personal, political and business background of the deputy, which now has emerged in much greater detail, my thesis begins to make some sort of sense”.

The Democrats have now signed Moreira off [pt] their cast, as the deputy had already asked the Electoral Court to end his Democrat membership on allegation of political persecution. The party is now fighting for his seat. If the Court accepts Moreira's request, however, he will still be free to subscribe to any other party and keep his job as a public servant. Meanwhile the PSOL Party has demanded a full investigation into yet another accusation: whether Edmar Moreira has used an usual amount of parliamentary stipend to fund special security through his own security companies. Raul Ibiassucê [pt] wonders if he will ever be punished:

“Edmar aderiu à lógica de abrir mão dos anéis para não perder os dedos. Tenta salvar o mandato de deputado, o castelo e os 2 milhões que não quer pagar. Se morasse num país sério, estaria em breve cassado e respondendo a processos cívil e criminal.”

“Edmar followed the logic of giving away rings in order not to lose fingers. He is trying to save his term in the congress, his castle and the 2 million that he does not want to pay. If he lived in a serious country, he would soon be revoked and responding to civil and criminal suits.”

Screenshots from Blog do Marlon show that there is no mention of the property neither by father nor son in their assets declaration to Electoral Justice. Both were elected deputies in 2006. Inspired by Lingua de Trapo, we quote Nelson Rodrigues again, “Family is the hell we all have”.

Second Act: An Envious Woman Takes Centre Stage

Many bloggers have been wondering why a man with a humble background should have built such a pretentious, distasteful and absurd castle? Apparently, it was just to please his wife Julia Fernandes, who was upset by the fact that one of Edmar’s brothers had bought the region's most astonishing farm, as he explained in that interview 10 years ago. She wanted, then, a castle and got one: 32-bedroom, 18-reception-room, 8-tower with swimming pools, artificial lakes, a chapel and kitchen to accommodate 200 people, costing more than a real French countryside castle. Pra Frente Sucupira [pt] presents the details:

“Peca pelo estilo da fachada, medieval. O ex-motorista do deputado disse que os sabonetes possuem gravada a silhueta da venerável senhora Moreira. A coisa toda deve valer a bagatela de R$ 25 milhões. Está à venda há uma década. Foi batizado de “Mona Lisa”, a mulher pintada por DaVinci cujo sorriso enigmático parece esconder alguma coisa. Um nome muito apropriado, afinal. Não teria sido declarado, argumenta seu Edmar, porque ele passou a propriedade para seus afortunados filhos.”

“The medieval style of the facade is where it goes wrong. Their former driver said that even the bars of soap had the venerable lady Moreira's silhouette. The whole thing must be worth a bargain at R$25 million. It has been up for sale for a decade. It is called “Mona Lisa”, the woman painted by Da Vinci whose enigmatic smile appears to hide something. A very appropriate name, anyway. It has not ever been declared [for tax purposes], according to Mr Edmar because he had given the property to his fortunate children.”

From Knight to Duke: The Trajectory of a Buffoon

Mr. Edmar Moreira is not a new actor in Brazilian politics’ underworld scene: he has been under investigation by the Public Prosecutor’s Office since 1999. There is a stack of accusations against him, and not having declared the castle to the tax office is just the most recent point that has had him stewing. According to O Pensador Sincero [pt] there have been further accusations:

“O corregedor foi denunciado pelo Ministério Público por apropriação indevida de contribuições ao INSS recolhidas por funcionários de uma empresa de vigilância que teve durante mais de 30 anos.”

“The ethics magistrate has been reported by the Public Prosecutor’s Office for misappropriation of contributions to Social Security, deposited by his surveillance company’s employees over the past 30 years.”

On watching this spectacle unfold, we shall not give such a character's past a miss. To complete the odyssey of the happiness and sadness of the Brazilian castle owner, read an article written by journalist Laerte Braga, which has been republished on many blogs. Based on accounts by a political prisoner from the time the Deputy was just a military police lieutenant in late 1969 and early 1970, he used to have a radical approach towards inmates – and wear expensive Ray-Ban sunglasses. Fernando Rodrigues [en] summarizes:

“Edmar Moreira hoje teve uma nova acusação jogada contra suas costas. Em 1970, ainda tenente da Polícia Militar de Minas Gerais, o jovem Edmar costumava tratar com terror os cerca de 300 presos políticos na penitenciária de Linhares, em Juiz de Fora. Quando ficava irritado, soltava os cachorros do quartel pelos pátios e dava tiros para ar. Tudo segundo relato de um dos presos daquela época (…) Esse relato foi reproduzido pelo jornalista Laerte Braga, mineiro, ex-preso político, que coletou os dados de um outro ex-preso político que estava na penitenciária por onde dava plantão o tenente Edmar em 1970.”

“Today Edmar Moreira has a new accusation thrown at him. In 1970, as a lieutenant of the Military Police of Minas Gerais, the young Edmar used terror to deal with 300 political prisoners in the Linhares prision, in Juiz de Fora. (…) These accounts have been reproduced by journalist Laerte Braga, from Minas Gerais, ex-political prisoner, who collected data from another former political prisoner who was encarcerated in the prision where lieutenant Edmar worked shifts in 1970.”

On February 5th, Edmar Moreira said he saw no reason to resign. His resignation letter arrived 5 days later. “Folks, here is a piece of truth: the past is always right”. A final quote by Nelson Rodrigues provided by Lingua de Trapo. Photo: Roosewelt Pinheiro/ABr

As Edmar Moreira leaves the stage, one question remains: if the media knew about the castle and his misdemeanours, why did they not investigate it? Luiz Antonio Magalhães [pt], writing at the Press Observatory, provides a possible answer:

O primeiro pecado da imprensa que aparece neste caso é o de deixar uma denúncia dessa magnitude sem acompanhamento por longos dez anos. Nesse período, Edmar sempre foi deputado federal, mas jamais almejou cargos na Mesa Diretora – procurou uma atuação discreta no parlamento. Não foi incomodado pela mídia e acabou recebido de braços abertos pelos mesmos líderes pefelistas que agora posam de virgens de bordel e bradam pela expulsão do deputado. Nem podem dizer que não sabiam de nada, como costuma fazer o presidente Lula: a matéria da Veja saiu seis anos antes de Edmar se filiar ao PFL.

A segunda questão negativa a ser apontada é na verdade conseqüência da primeira: se o leitor prestar atenção, nos meios políticos a maior parte das denúncias de corrupção, malversação do dinheiro público, sonegação fiscal e outros delitos só aparece quando o acusado ascende a algum cargo de maior relevância, isto é, quando começa a disputar poder. A razão para isso é muito simples: em geral, a mídia não investiga coisa alguma, as denúncias chegam redondinhas, das mãos de quem tem interesse direto na desgraça do acusado.

The media's first error was to let a claim of this magnitude go un-investigated for ten long years. During this period, Edmar has always been a deputy, but had never sought a seat on the Board of Directors – he had pursued a discrete role in parliament. He was not bothered by the media and was welcomed with open arms by those same leaders of the Democrats party who now, posing as the virgins of the brothel, are crying out for his expulsion. They can't even claim that they knew nothing, as often President Lula does: the story was published in Veja magazine six years before Edmar joined the party.

The second negative issue to be highlighted is actually a result of the first: if you pay attention, most of the accusations of corruption, misappropriation of public money, tax evasion and other offenses in political circles appear only when the accused person climbs to a role of greater relevance, ie., when they begin to dispute power. The reason is very simple: in general, the media does not investigate anything, the complaints come ready made, from the hands of those who have direct interest in the plight of the accused.

Written in collaboration with Paula Góes.

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