BRASÍLIA, Brazil – The democratically elected Dilma Rousseff, who has been temporarily removed from serving as President of the Republic since May for alleged budgetary indiscretions, will now face an official investigation carried out by the Attorney General after the Supreme Court gave its authorization for the case to proceed.
Judge Teori Zavascki of the Supreme Court authorized the official opening of the investigation into Rousseff’s activities in regard to charges of obstruction of justice, and the initial hearings of the case will begin on August 25. The date will coincide with the opening of the impeachment trial she is already facing.
Rousseff has not officially declared whether she will be present for the impeachment trial; if she does attend, it will be to simply present her personal statement of defense.
If she is summoned to answer questions in the obstruction of justice investigation, however, she will have to appear and respond accordingly. Indeed, she has already said that she will be present to testify in her defense in the latter case.
The prosecution team in the investigation into the obstruction of justice charges alleges that Rousseff tried to prevent corruption investigations of members of her cabinet and other political allies, most notably that of Luiz Inácio ‘Lula’ da Silva, Rousseff’s predecessor (2003-2011) and fellow center-left Workers’ Party (PT) member.
Lula, who is credited with lifting 40 million Brazilians out of poverty during his time in power (2003-2011) and averaging an economic growth of 7.5 percent during that time, has been named in a broader corruption case.
Prosecutors have accused him of accepting kickbacks; not in the form of money but in gifts like a beachfront home in the coastal city of Guarujá.
This was a part of the massive Petrobras scandal, in which prosecutors allege that over $1 billion in cash and gifts was doled out and laundered to the the semi-state-owned energy company’s executives and certain politicians in exchange for valuable contracts with construction and engineering companies.
Shortly after he was implicated in the case, Rousseff nominated Lula, her political mentor and close friend, to be her Chief of Staff. The Supreme Court, however, did not allow Lula to take the position because they perceived his nomination as a tactic to shield him from prosecution; this is because politicians and cabinet members enjoy immunity from certain legal proceedings.
After the Supreme Court delivered that ruling, Attorney General Rodrigo Janot then asked the judicial body to give his office the green light to investigate Rousseff for obstruction of justice in relation to Lula, and this was also approved by the Supreme Court.
Whether the investigation into the obstruction of justice charges will produce a trial remains to be seen. What is already set, however, is the trial concerning her impeachment after the Brazilian Senate voted earlier this month to hold the proceedings against her.
In early May, a majority in the Brazilian Senate (upper house of Congress) voted to remove Rousseff from power; several weeks earlier, a majority of the Chamber of Deputies (the lower house of Congress) did the same.
The vote saw Rousseff suspended from her position for up to six months pending an investigation into her alleged wrongdoing, meaning that a decision had to be made whether she will be reinstated or face a trial. According to the Impeachment Commission, a two-thirds majority (54 votes) of the 81-seat Senate was required to launch the impeachment trial and this was achieved (59 for and 21 against).
Nearly 55 percent of Brazilian parliamentarians have some sort of criminal case opened against them, mostly in relation to corruption, bribery or money laundering while others are accused of assault and even kidnapping. Those same politicians, however, voted to unseat Rousseff, one of the very few politicians in the nation that has not been directly accused of illegal enrichment.
The official reason given for the action against the leader is that she allegedly transferred parts of the national budget between different funds in order to present a better picture of the national economy. This is standard practice in Brazil and in many nations (and has been seen especially in recent years with the global economic crisis) and while it does present a murkier view of a government and its transparency, it has never come close to toppling a national leader. In truth, judicial experts in Brazil have blasted the whole process as “irregular.”
Instead of punishing Rousseff’s party via democratic elections, politicians have used public discontent over a stagnant economy and rampant cases of corruption (in which most of them and their parties are involved) to use Rousseff as a scapegoat.
In particular, most members of the big-tent (but currently right-leaning) Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), which withdrew itself from the ruling coalition months ago, have come out against Rousseff, as have members of other parties that were once allies.
The most notable PMDB members to do so include Eduardo Cunha, the man who started the impeachment effort and was the President of the Chamber of Deputies of Brazil until mid-May when he was removed due to allegations of corruption and, ironically, obstruction of justice. He stepped down from the position definitively in July.
Another notable figure is Michel Temer, Rousseff’s Vice-President and now-interim (and highly unpopular) leader who was recorded speaking of himself as President and about his presidential plans two months before the Senate’s impeachment vote even took place.
Earlier this week, Rousseff sent an open letter to lawmakers and the Brazilian public in which she urged for a closing of the impeachment proceedings due to a lack of culpability and evidence. Rousseff also called for a plebiscite in which Brazilians would vote upon holding new presidential elections later this year.
Lawyers speaking on behalf of Rousseff, who has still not been implicated in any corruption case herself, said that she was removed from power by other politicians with the sole purpose of putting an end to Operation Lava Jato. With Rousseff out of the way, her legal team argues, the investigation would be sidetracked or stopped altogether by the interim government. In turn, the citizenry would not object much to the stoppage of the investigation because the most powerful politician in the country would be impeached as the biggest result of the ‘anti-corruption’ campaign.
Rousseff’s lawyers have presented tons of evidence to back their claims including numerous recordings held between members of the PMDB (whose members are the most represented on the corruption lists compiled by prosecutors) in which the dialogue clearly suggests ousting Rousseff with the aim of saving themselves by stopping the investigation. In fact, Temer has already seen three cabinet members resign since he assumed power on May 12 as each became implicated in the corruption case.
Several prosecutors overseeing the Lava Jato case, which began to filter out to the public in March of 2014 and is being called the biggest corruption case in Brazilian history, have cleared Rousseff of any wrongdoing and say that she did not know what was happening behind her back. According to the Attorney General handling the case, the corruption began with kickbacks in 1997 (14 years before Rousseff even became President) during the administration of center-right Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2003).
Regardless, Rousseff, who admitted to “making mistakes but committing absolutely no crimes” during her mandate, will face another trial-by-fire in the Senate at the conclusion of her impeachment trial when, once again, 54 Senate votes will be needed to see her permanently removed from her position and banned from politics for eight years.