Esquema literally means “scheme.” But the word is used to conceal mostly small crimes, like stealing cable TV. It can, however, refer to more serious cases of corruption
The literal translation for esquema is scheme. The definitions are the following: “figure that gives a simplified and functional representation of an object, a movement, a process, and so on”; “description or mental image restricted to the essential features of an object, process, etc .; Synopsis, plan; “Result of a study that aims to establish norms, goals, quotas, etc.”; “plan, planning, arrangement”.
And, in fact, it denotes plan, design. But this word also has another important meaning that relates to corruption.
An esquema is a way to gain money or benefits illegally. For instance, you can say that someone at the local DMV that takes bribes to issue driver licenses faster has set up an esquema. It doesn’t matter the scale nor the values involved.
You can use the word for virtually anything if it involves breaking or getting around the rules. And the word works as a sort of passcode as well. If you suspect there is a way to get around something but are not sure, just ask: “What is or is there an esquema?”. The word softens the idea that someone might be committing a crime. After all, stealing cable to save a few a bucks is not a “big” felony, it is just an esquema.
It can, however, be used to refer to more serious cases of corruption. Brazilian media often call cases such as the ones investigated by the Car Wash Operation esquemas dhttp://mundoestranho.abril.com.br/cotidiano/os-maiores-escandalos-de-corrupcao-do-brasil/e corrupção (corruption schemes).
In soccer, esquema is the formation a team uses such as 4-4-2, 4-5-1 or 4-3-3. However, even in sports, that same word will refer to corruption, of course.
Esquema can also imply a positive set up. When someone says that things “are in the esquema“, it does not necessarily mean we are talking about corruption. Probably that person is saying that he or she is very close to achieving something. And, many times, that involves having worked very hard towards it – such as in a romantic conquest.