Brazil faces high-level visit by bribery experts concerned about corruption fight

14 October 2019 11:15am

11 October 2019, by Martin Coyle and Rodrigo Russo

Brazil faces an emergency visit by global experts on bribery next month following concerns about political interference in the country’s attempts to stamp out corruption, MLex has learned.

A delegation from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Working Group on Bribery will meet Brazilian government officials in November, in a bid to force the country to up its game in the fight against corruption.

The high-level delegation is concerned about government attempts to shut down bribery investigations and new legislation that will make it tougher to prosecute the crime, MLex understands.

President Jair Bolsonaro’s recent appointment of Augusto Aras as Prosecutor General has not been well received because of Aras' links to the president. The independence of investigations has been put at risk with Aras’ appointment, critics argue.

The working group is also displeased by a decision from Justice Dias Toffoli, the president of the country’s Supreme Court, in a case related to investigations against one of Bolsonaro’s sons, the senator Flávio Bolsonaro. Prosecutors are probing a money laundering scheme involving Flávio Bolsonaro.

In July, Toffoli accepted a request from Flávio Bolsonaro’s defense and temporarily suspended all ongoing probes based on confidential data shared by the country’s anti-money laundering agency and the Federal Treasury without previous court authorization.

Before Toffoli’s decision, prosecutors were able to obtain financial-intelligence information without having specific court orders for each of their targets.

The OECD is also worried with the recently enacted “abuse of authority” bill, passed by Congress and signed by President Bolsonaro in September. During legislative discussions, the working group said the bill introduces an “overly broad definition of the offense of abuse of authority by judges and prosecutors," raising concerns that such a broad definition could be used by corrupt individuals to “unfairly attack justice-seeking prosecutors and judges for appropriately doing their jobs."

The bill could also have a "significant chilling effect" on anti-corruption prosecutions and investigations in Brazil and beyond," the working group said.

Brazil has been at the center of a number of sprawling corruption investigations, the most famous of which is the “Car Wash” (Lava Jato) probe, a far-reaching investigation into several units of the country’s state-controlled oil giant Petróleo Brasileiro.

Politicians, businessmen, financial operators and Petrobras officials working in Brazil and abroad have been targeted by a task force investigating suspicious Petrobras deals since 2014. President Bolsonaro was elected last year based on a strong anti-corruption mandate.

The OECD’s decision to visit the country is seen as a serious step by the working group, which has had long-standing concerns about Brazil’s efforts in fighting financial crime. It has previously sent delegations to Sweden, Russia, Argentina and Japan over poor compliance with the OECD’s recommendations on bribery.

A high-level delegation previously visited London in 2006, at the height of the controversy over UK Prime Minister Tony Blair's decision to seek an end to an investigation of bribery allegations linking British Aerospace to a sale of fighter planes to Saudi Arabia.

The UK's Serious Fraud Office was forced to drop its case on national-security grounds.