Today marks the three-year anniversary of Brazil’s most historic anti-corruption investigation: Operation Car Wash. In addition to 746 search and seizure mandates, the operation boasts 153 plea deals. Its 56 criminal accusations indict a total of 260 people. Of those accused, prosecutors have succeeded in condemning 130 persons. The 26 sentences issued total over 1,300 years of prison time. Finally, the operation has recuperated over $3.21 billion in public funds. And yet, prosecutors believe the real work is still about to begin.
Federal prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol made a statement for the Operation’s anniversary with the Brazilian newspaper, Folha de S. Paulo. He states: “the results that the public most awaits will come from the Supreme Federal Court”. Meaning, the gavel will soon fall upon corrupt politicians who benefit from privileged judicial status. These politicians have avoided justice for so long due to the fact that their trials must go through the Supreme Court. But with the Prosecutor-General’s latest list of new names, these politicians can’t avoid investigation forever.
Dallagnol, the head of the operation task-force, greatly credited social movements and protests for their success. The prosecutor affirmed that the strength of public outrage in the streets made for a “powerful combination” to fight corruption. Furthermore, Dallagnol asserts that Operation Car Wash revealed “a corruption that has deep roots and tentacles that embrace a multitude of public organs”. Indeed, “not just the number, but also the levels of power held by the accused is shocking.”
Need for political reform
One major accomplishment of Operation Car Wash was revealing the common practice of political bribes and money laundering through electoral campaigns. With these bribes – or “campaign donations” – from business executives across major sectors, investigators discovered four principal ways in which politicians launder the money. Because many of these methods are not always considered electoral crimes, or do not carry criminal consequences, politicians are getting away with it.
As a result, prosecutors believe Brazil needs to do more than just put people in jail: it needs legislative reform to hold corrupt politicians accountable. For example, Dallagnol references Italy’s anti-corruption operation “Mani Pulite” (Clean Hands), and says Brazil can learn from their mistakes. While Italy put the biggest weight of the operation in hands of the justice system, Dallagnol argues the judicial branch can only do so much. For this federal prosecutor, Brazil needs to enact deep legislative reform to hold its corrupt politicians accountable.
Of course, corrupt politicians have little incentive to do away with their current system – it’s simply too lucrative. In fact, congressmen are already scrambling to grant amnesty for their dirty money. However, Operation Car Wash has opened the eyes of the public once and for all to their country’s corruption. For Dallagnol, there’s simply no going back: the conversation has launched in society and in Parliament.
“If people don’t de-sensitize themselves, if we don’t give up, we’ll get there,” says the prosecutor. He further emphasizes this anniversary celebration with one strong statement: “there’s a lot more to come”.