Brazil’s Anti-Corruption About-Face Could Signal the End of an Era

Brazil’s Anti-Corruption About-Face Could Signal the End of an Era
Demonstrators protest against corruption outside the National Congress, Brasilia, Brazil, Dec. 4, 2016 (AP photo by Eraldo Peres).

Brazil, the embattled South American nation that has seen its fortunes rise and fall dramatically in the past few years, is once again looking like a country that foreshadows major global trends. This time, it is flashing warning signs about the coming battles in the worldwide campaign against corruption.

For the past few years, Brazil has been in the news for its successes in rooting out embezzlement and bribery schemes involving the country’s industrial giants and its political class. But last week, Brazil’s corruption-plagued Chamber of Deputies took a controversial late-night vote. Rewriting an anti-corruption bill into one that would do the opposite of what it originally intended, they made it possible to sue and imprison judges and prosecutors for abuses of power. They also removed the legal definition of what constitutes unlawful enrichment and a clause that sets out protections for whistle-blowers. With that, the legislators signaled their resolve to thwart anti-graft efforts.

Prosecutors have threatened to resign if the Senate approves the rewritten legislation, and thousands of Brazilians have been protesting in support of the prosecutors. But the bill might still become law. After all, the stakes could not be higher, and politicians are battening the hatches. Just this week, the Senate refused to accept a preliminary order by a Supreme Court justice to remove the Senate president, Renan Calheiros, after he was indicted for embezzlement. The senators said they would wait for a decision by the full court, which on Wednesday found a compromise solution, allowing Calheiros to retain his position, while removing him from the line of succession to the presidency while he remains a defendant in a criminal case.

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