Turf War Brewing in Brazil Over Corruption Investigations

[All links lead to Portuguese language pages, except when otherwise noted.]

On the heels of a landmark corruption case[en] in Brazil that saw former members of ex-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's government convicted of participating in a vote-buying scheme, a proposed constitutional amendment in Brazil would hand over much of the investigative powers of the public prosecutors’ office, which prosecuted that case, to police.

Under discussion in the House of Representatives, the proposed amendment[en], dubbed by critics as the “bill of impunity”, aims to restrict the authority of carrying out criminal investigations to police. Currently, the prosecutors’ office can lead investigations just like police can, a measure enacted[en] after Brazil's military dictatorship to counter the country's culture of corruption with another level of accountability.

Former Police Commissioner and Federal Deputy Lourival Mendes, who authored the proposal, has defended the amendment, saying that one institution, not two or more, should be in charge of investigations. The Public Ministry[en], as the federal public prosecutors’ office is called, should be limited to prosecuting cases that originate from evidence gathered by the police, according to Mendes.

But the independence of the prosecutors’ office has paved the way for many major cases, such as the prosecution of former Judge Nicolau dos Santos Neto who was convicted of bribery, embezzlement, fraud, and money laundering in 2006, as prosecuting attorney Janice Ascari (@JaniceAscarihighlighted on Twitter:

@JaniceAscari: Importante: o caso do Juiz Nicolau foi investigado diretamente pelo MPF e sem nenhuma participação da Polícia. #PEC37

@JaniceAscari: Important: the case against Judge Nicolau was directly investigated by the Federal Public Ministry and without any participation from the Police #PEC37

"Against the PEC 37"/ Illustration publicized by the site 'Brasil contra a impunidade' (Brazil against impunity).

“Against the PEC 37″. Illustration publicized by the site “Brasil contra a impunidade” (Brazil against impunity).

Many institutional bodies would be affected by the so-called PEC 37, including the Secretariat of the Federal Revenue of Brazil [en], the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources [en], and the Central Bank of Brazil [en], but it is the Public Ministry which has spoken out against the measure most, headquartering their mobilization on the website Brasil Contra a Impunidade [Brazil Against Impunity].

An Avaaz petition has already gathered more than 96,000 signatures opposing the proposed amendment as of May 4, 2013, and the prosecutors’ office in the Brazilian state of Ceará has released a song supporting cause.

On April 22, 2013, the prosecutors’ office in the state of São Paulo called for protest against the amendment on Twitter. Using the hashtags #NãoPEC37 and #PEC37, many Twitter users have spoken out their opinions on the subject.

Lawyer Renato Buosi (@renatobuosiraises the question:

@renatobuosi: A quem interessa fazer com que o Ministério Público não tenha competência para investigações??? #Brasil #NaoPEC37

@renatobuosi: Who is interested in making the Public Ministry powerless in investigations??? #Brasil #NaoPEC37

Blogger Cláudio Fontes (@Claudioffontessruled out the need for such a law:

@Claudioffontess: O Brasil não precisa de #PEC37, de Copa do Mundo, de Olimpíadas e muito menos de CORRUPÇÃO, o Brasil precisa de SAÚDE, SEGURANÇA E EDUCAÇÃO!

@Claudioffontess: Brazil does not need the amendment #PEC37, the World Cup, Olympics and CORRUPTION, Brazil needs HEALTH, SAFETY AND EDUCATION!

Some police organizations are leading campaigns in defense of the amendment, such as the National Association of the Federal Police Commissioners and the Association of the Police Commissioners of Brazil, which is responsible for the website PEC da legalidade [PEC of legality].

Even among police, however, there are those who are against the bill, such as federal police agent FC Garisto (@FCGaristo) who affirmed:

@FCGaristo: Na POLÍCIA FEDERAL somente os delegados defendem a IMUNDA #PEC37 – 90% da PF é Contra essa Vergonhosa PEC que defende a corrupção !

@FCGaristo: In the FEDERAL POLICE force, only police commissioners advocate in favor of the DISGUSTING #PEC37 – 90% of the Federal Police are against this Shameful PEC which defends corruption! !

Journalist Decio Neves (@DecioNevespointed out one of the possible motivations behind legislators voting in favor of the proposal in a special committee of the House of Representatives, where the PEC 37 was approved with 14 votes on November 21, 2012:

@DecioNeves: LEGISLANDO EM CAUSA PRÓPRIA: Dos 14 deputados que aprovaram a #PEC37 9 estão sendo processados com ajuda do MP http://twitpic.com/ck95kf 

@DecioNeves: TO LEGISLATE FOR THEIR OWN CAUSE: From the 14 deputies who approved the #PEC37 nine are being prosecuted with the assistance of the Public Ministry http://twitpic.com/ck95kf

The proposal is ready to be voted on in the House of Representatives. If approved, it will be forwarded to the Senate. Concerning that, Twitter user De Olho na Serra (@todolhoforesaw:

@todolho: Na votação da PEC37 se verá quem é quem. Corruptos serão pró. Os ainda com esperança de salvação votarão contra.

@todolho: We will see who is who in the PEC 37 voting session. Corrupt will be in favor of it. Those who do still have hope of salvation will vote against it.


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