Imagine a monthly payment of £10,000 without any claim forms that could
horribly expose the circumstances of the loved ones in your second home. No risk of the press writing about hubbies appetite for adult videos and the somewhat excessive abode of mam and dad that required £90,000 worth of maintenance. Jacqui Smith and Maria Miller, you should have been senhoras. In Brazil, all you have to do is vote with the Government and, as a gesture of appreciation each month, £10,000 is shoved into your back pocket. The word mensalão means big monthly payment and, in a country where many are still forced to scavenge out an existence on the streets, £10,000 definitely qualifies as big.
The Mensalão scandal was first mentioned in the Brazilian press in 2005, around about the same time David Cameron and his political soul mate Rebekah Brookes
were bouncing around on horses in the Oxfordshire countryside. So he had better be wary because these affairs can grow. The Mensalão scandal is now creating serious casualties. There is talk that ex–President Lula will finally be trapped by the three investigations recommended by the Supreme Court. Lula wants to return as President in 2014 but when quizzed in France he claimed that he felt as if he had been stabbed in the back. Considering his wounds he did well to cross the Atlantic but then Lula has always enjoyed travel. When he was President he was often criticized for his journeys abroad at official expense. Lula insists that the Mensalão allegations are a lie. ‘An invention by my political enemies,’ he said.
Suspicions were aroused when an advisor to a Congressional deputy was seized at an airport. The advisor had $100, 000 in his underpants, no boxer shorts to impress the women that day. Although Brazil has a problem with pickpockets and muggings the airport official concluded that this was suspicious, especially as there was more money in the luggage. And especially as a month before, on June 6 2005, Congressional Deputy Roberto Jefferson had told the Brazilian newspaper, Folha de São Paulo, that the ruling Partido dos Trabhaldores (PT) had paid a number of Congressional Deputies 30,000 reais every month to vote for legislation favoured by the PT. The Deputies were members of the Brazilian Labour Party. Think of the Conservatives paying Liberal MPs to vote for budget cuts or Clegg in better ties and without his recently acquired frown. This is the way to run a coalition. Everybody benefits, at least all the important people. To their credit, the government had the old fashioned objective of improving the lives of the Brazilian people. At the same time as Mensalão became news the magazine, Veja, reported corruption in the Brazilian Postal Service. They had obtained videotape that showed former Post Office Chief Mauricio Marinho receiving money from a businessman, apparently a bribe. Well, like the $100,000 underpants, there could be an innocent explanation. This fraud consisted of the sale of government contracts. It appears that the scheme would have been administered by the Post Office administrative director and by the Post Office manager and Congressional deputy. On the tape, Marinho received 3000 reais. The tape was broadcast by the major Brazilian television stations. And who said Brazilian TV only ever showed rubbish?
The monthly Mensalão payment scheme was operated by Marcos Valério de Souza. Souza part owned the advertising agencies that had large contracts with the government. I know, so many schemes and so many officials. It is so difficult to remember them all. Pity the poor student of Brazilian history. Because there is a tradition of corruption within the Brazilian government and the fraud that exists at national level is often mirrored by no less damaging financial poaching at state level. Indeed, the existing
scandals hint at progress. Perhaps they reveal the inability of human beings to resist temptation but Lula and his flawed cronies at least lack the savage cynicism of some of their right wing predecessors. The champions have to be ex-President Fernando Collor and his campaign manager Paulo Cesar Farias. The nickname PC makes Farias sound impish and lovable and no doubt some found the man in the corner buying the drinks charming. PC was a businessman who went bankrupt in 1983. After that he decided to run election campaigns and in 1990 he helped Fernando Collor to become President. The campaign fund for Collor amounted to $23m. After the electoral success, PC bought his first jet plane. Before people accuse me of envy let me remind you that PC was accused of embezzling $1bn, yes billion, from the Brazilian people. Rosanne Collor, wife of Fernando, was a woman determined to leave her mark and she spent $11m ‘in her home town’. I quote from the recommended book ‘A Death In Brazil’. * The use of the word ‘in’ is interesting. PC Farias went to prison but they had to chase him to Bangkok to catch him. Rosanne was sentenced to 11 years in prison but the conviction was overturned. These days she talks about God a lot but can still be observed living in opulent style for the benefit of the poor. Fernando was acquitted on a technicality and has a website that proclaims his innocence. He returned to public life and is now a member of the Ethics Commission. No wonder the Brazilians are cheerful. They have the best jokes.
But some of the corruption is very dark indeed. Remember Valerio, him of the advertising agency. His secretary and wife have testified in the various Congress hearings. There have been allegations of links with the mafia and Brazilian gangsters and the murder of the mayor of Santo
Andre, Celso Daniel. Nobody should be shocked. In 1999, Congressman, or supposedly friendly democratically elected official, Hildebrando Pascoal, was arrested on various charges. Admittedly, those that did not vote for him were not impartial but they argued that he was a real nuisance. Hildebrando, there must be a nickname in there somewhere, was fond of the chainsaw, particularly when it happened to be attached to a bleeding human limb. He responded to the stubborn by cutting off their arms and legs. One man Pascoal found really offensive. The man had his penis sawn off while a nail was hammered into his head. Remember PC Farias, the man who embezzled $1bn or the man with the biggest underpants of all. Well, he had a brother called Augusto and him and Pascoal were named in 1999 as leaders of an organization of drug traffickers, arms dealers, road cargo pirates and professional killers. And being restricted to the embezzlement of public funds is so limiting. Why not take the next step and rob the citizens from the side of the highway. Augusto Farias was also indicted for the murder of his brother PC. This is the problem with ambition. It is not all about personal growth and chainsaws. Augusto was released but we need some perspective. In 2003, the authorities found 140 slaves working on a property belonging to Augusto. He was detained by the law but discharged without charges being pressed.
Meanwhile, or right now, Marcos Valerio is singing to Congress. Unless a mysterious deal emerges he faces a criminal sentence of 40 years for misusing an advertising agency. He has alleged that he paid some of the personal expenses of Lula from a slush account funded by embezzlement. The Justice Minister of Brazil, Jose Cardozo, is an ally of Lula. He said that the testimony of Marcos Valerio ‘is without merit’. I can imagine a few Brazilians smiling when they heard those words.
*A Death In Brazil, Peter Robb, Bloomsbury Publishing
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