Corruption's roots deep and wide-reaching in Brazil

A parliamentary report released last week accuses more than 800 officials at all levels of organized crimes.

The longest and most detailed investigation into narcotics trafficking and organized crime ever carried out in Brazil has found that drug-related corruption and money laundering have become so widespread that the country is unable to properly fight the problem.

An unprecedented inquiry carried out by a commission of lawmakers with wide-reaching powers spent more than a year investigating organized crime. Their damning report named 824 people it accuses of crimes ranging from drug trafficking to gun running to tax evasion.

Two federal deputies (congressmen), two former state governors, and 15 state deputies are among those named in the 1,198-page report. Scores of mayors, judges, police officers, lawyers, and even officials from the neighboring countries of Bolivia, Paraguay, and Suriname are also accused of involvement in sending $50 billion in tainted money through Brazil's banks each year.

The report concluded that drug-related corruption is so widespread that it is impossible to clean up in the short term without calling in the military and restructuring and rearming the country's police.

"Authorities have to understand that organized crime is organized and we are disorganized," says Eber Silva, one of the commission's members. " Society can't put up with this much longer.... Authorities must modify the police, the justice system, and the armed forces."

The report named Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo as centers of narcotics trafficking and highlighted how drug mafias across this massive nation cooperate to import cocaine, heroin, and marijuana from Andean nations and distribute them in Brazil.

It cited more than 100 companies used to launder money and resell goods stolen by gangs of truck thieves. Some 70 telephone companies and the heads of six banks were accused of not cooperating fully with investigators.

The report called on Brazil's disparate police forces to work together to combat organized crime, and asked the government to increase funding for its nascent witness-protection program.

Most dramatically, the report revealed for the first time the key roles played by politicians, police officers, and other influential figures in a business many had said was run not out of police stations and parliamentary chambers but from the dark alleys of the nation's slums.

"It showed fairly clearly the relationship between drug trafficking, organized crime, violence, and the corruption of authorities - and in particular police," says James Cavallaro, head of the Global Justice human rights group. "There is a high degree of infiltration of corruption among authorities who should be fighting drug trafficking but are instead facilitating" it.

One of those authorities named in the report, former Acre congressman Hildebrando Pascoal, was removed from the Chamber of Deputies last year after an investigation that led to the creation of the commission found that he ran a grisly death squad. The man who replaced him in parliament was one of the two federal deputies accused in the report. Congress and the Attorney General's Office will now come under pressure to impeach and try the two legislators and many of the others implicated.

Experts, however, doubt whether many of the most powerful figures in the inquiry will be prosecuted, because, as Mr. Cavallaro says, the country's judicial system is "overloaded, backlogged, and inefficient and suffers pressure from these thugs and their allies to remain inefficient."

Instead, "history shows us that what is likely to occur is that the follow-up will be focused on lower-level traffickers," he says.

Analysts, were not entirely pessimistic. Not only did the report name senior figures previously immune from such inquiries, it also detailed how far trafficking has permeated business and society. One part of the report related how a drug trafficker gave a judge a drinks-distribution company in return for a reduction in his sentence. Another chapter said traffickers use 600 clandestine airports in Sao Paulo state alone. As a measure of the report's influence, at least eight and maybe as many as 30 people who gave evidence to investigators later turned up dead, say officials.

The author of the report says he was happy with the work done, but told parliamentary leaders if they were serious about defeating the traffickers, they must create a permanent body to investigate the traffickers and their accomplices.

"Our success was having taken off the blindfold so that the country can see the reality that until now was only partially visible," says Deputy Moroni Torgan.

But, "the work is a preliminary work. We shone the spotlight on organized crime and highlighted lots of actors, but there are many more in the wings."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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