Perhaps you've heard about the latest corruption scandal in Brazil: executives at the state-controlled oil company Petrobras allegedly accepted multimillion-dollar bribes to make deals with big private contractors at inflated prices. It's estimated that Petrobras might have lost R$19 billion (almost 5 billion USD) in public revenues because of the scheme, which was uncovered by a federal police operation codenamed “Car Wash,” launched back in 2014.
Dozens of people, including high-profile businessmen and politicians connected to the Worker's Party, have been arrested so far, and every arrest is a media spectacle, with a flock of reporters and cameras registering every moment. Soon people started to notice something unusual. In every arrest photo, there he was: the same short, East Asian–looking agent, with grizzled hair and always, always, wearing ray-ban sunglasses.
He soon became a celebrity: the “Japanese Federale,” Brazil's newest anti-corruption hero, some called him. With Carnival approaching, he is all over the place: from masks and costumes to the lyrics of the marchinhas (a typical music genre of Brazilian carnival that satirizes formal military marches, which every year parodies current events). In the town of Olinda, where one of the largest carnival parties is held, organizers promised to construct a giant doll in the agent's image (Olinda's carnival traditionally features giant dolls of celebrities and politicians).
“Oh my God, I'm done for. The Japanese Federale is knocking at my door,” intones a popular new song.
Fábrica produz máscaras de carnaval do agente da PF, Newton Ishii, o “Japonês”, da Lava Jato. Fábio Motta/Estadão pic.twitter.com/O73Os5RmOV
— Broadcast Imagem (@BroadcastImagem) January 8, 2016
A factory is producing carnival masks of the federal police agent, Newton Ishii, the “Japanese” [agent] of Operation Car Wash.
— Jovem Pan (@portaljovempan) January 22, 2016
What's your favorite mask for the carnival this year? Eduardo Cunha [President of the parliament] or Newton Ishii of the Federal Police?
But who is he? Agent Newton Ishii, a descendent of Japanese immigrants, is the chief of operations in Brazil's Federal Police branch in Curitiba, where the “Car Wash” operation is based. He's been serving in uniform since 1976 and was arrested in 2003 for alleged involvement in a smuggling ring at the Paraguay-Brazil border. Ishii was found innocent and released. More than a decade later, in 2014, he rejoined the Federal Police.
This information hasn't stopped Ishii's cult of personality online, however, where he's now being celebrated as an anti-corruption warrior and an inspiration for Internet memes.
— Rogerio Machado (@RF_Machado) January 6, 2016
Grateful for Federal Agent Ishii's kindness to take photo with me and my family.
— marksjoma (@marksjoma) January 1, 2016
Happy new year to Newton Ishii! Great arrests! The federal police is well represented.
— marksjoma (@marksjoma) December 29, 2015
“The Federal Japanese.” His name is Newton Ishii and he's an exemplary [officer].
Toc, toc, toc… pic.twitter.com/sueQazDYsV
— Japones da Federal (@newtonishii) December 13, 201
— Humor Político (@HumorPoliticobr) January 18, 2016
[The webpage Humor Politico published a cartoon showing former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva hiding his head as ostrich as the Newton Ishii looks for him.]
Many Brazilians have grown dissatisfied with the Worker's Party, which has been in power for 12 years. Critics expect incumbent President Dilma Roussef and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the former president and the founder of the Worker's Party, to be implicated in Operation Car Wash. So far, neither have been summoned by police for questioning.