Dozens of leading figures named in Brazil corruption inquiry

Leaks show that Lula, Rousseff and five cabinet ministers among those facing investigation

Brazil’s long-running corruption crisis has escalated dramatically after the country’s chief federal prosecutor asked the supreme court to investigate dozens of the country’s most powerful politicians for wrongdoing.

Rodrigo Janot's request to open 83 formal inquiries is based on plea-bargain testimony from executives of Odebrecht, Brazil's biggest construction conglomerate, who have admitted the company paid billions in bribes and illicit campaign financing to politicians in return for contracts and favours.

Though the names of the politicians targeted have not yet been publicly released, leaks in Brazilian media said Mr Janot's list includes former Workers Party presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, five ministers in President Michel Temer's cabinet, 10 sitting governors and the heads of the senate and lower house of congress.

Also said to be on it are Social Democrat leaders José Serra and Aécio Neves, who between them lost the 2002, 2010 and 2014 presidential elections to Lula and Ms Rousseff, who are also joined on the list by two former finance ministers who served under them.


In a message sent to prosecutors across Brazil, seen by local media, Mr Janot said the Odebrecht depositions revealed "the sad reality of a democracy under attack and, in large measure, dishonoured in its essence by corruption and the abuse of economic and political power".

The Odebrecht executives agreed to talk to prosecutors after company president Marcelo Odebrecht was sentenced to 19 years for corruption after he was caught up in the probe into wrongdoing at state oil giant Petrobras.

The company has since admitted that it operated a vast web of corruption that required it to maintain a secret department just to manage its bribery operation, which even saw it buy a Caribbean bank to facilitate the scheme. One senior executive calculated the secret department paid out €3.2 billion between 2006 and 2014 to politicians and parties across Brazil’s political spectrum.

Lula questioning

Separately on Tuesday, Lula was questioned as part of the investigation into whether he sought to obstruct the Petrobras probe.

Marcelo Odebrecht and several of his executives have also provided testimony to Brazil’s top electoral court investigating the 2014 presidential election. They confirmed that the company illicitly helped bankroll Ms Rousseff’s campaign in return for economic favours.

That could lead to the court stripping Mr Temer of the presidency he inherited from Ms Rousseff following her impeachment last year for breaking the country’s fiscal laws.

Brazil’s political class, increasingly panicked by the revelations, has intensified moves in congress to pass a sweeping amnesty, claiming that the Petrobras investigation is threatening to criminalise all political activity in the country.

But Mr Janot refuted that claim saying the inquiry “represent a rare chance to clean up the national political process”.

It could take years before any politicians on Mr Janot’s list are convicted. In March 2015 he asked the supreme court to investigate an initial 54 politicians cited in the Petrobras affair. So far only four have been sent forward for trial by the court with none of the cases yet reaching a verdict.

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan

Tom Hennigan is a contributor to The Irish Times based in South America