Against a BRIC Wall: How the Petrobras Scandal Unmasked Brazil's Corrupt Political System

January 21, 2016 1:30 PM

Brazil's political system is unraveling, and for good reason: A long-running corruption investigation into the state-run oil firm Petrobras has unveiled a much deeper web of corruption that threatens the fabric of the country's democracy. Brazilians are watching with a mix of awe, excitement, disgust, and dismay as major executives and politicians are literally carted off to jail.

An impeachment proceeding has been started against President Dilma Rousseff, who was energy minister between 2003 and 2005 and was on the board of directors of Petrobras between 2003 and 2010. Rousseff says the impeachment process is illegal because no charges have been brought against her.

Coupled with a sharp pullback in oil prices, the turmoil has left the economy in its deepest recession since 1990. Output is set for a jarring 4 percent contraction this year alone while inflation has again reached double digits.

Following is a timeline of the events that led to the recent state of chaos:

Against a BRIC Wall: How the Petrobras Scandal Unmasked Brazil

March 2014 – Brazilian prosecutors launch an investigation, dubbed "Car Wash," that leads to charges against four criminal organizations led by black-market currency dealers. This probe leads to much broader findings—of a longstanding, systemic corruption scheme reaching the highest levels of Brazil's state-run oil giant Petrobras, which until the scandal broke had been seen as a model of good management in the region.

April 14, 2014 – Rousseff accuses those calling for the Petrobras investigation of having political motivations. She defends the firm strongly.

April 24, 2014 – Brazil's supreme court allows investigation into alleged corruption at Petrobras to move forward.

November 14, 2014 – Federal police arrest 18 people, including former Petrobras engineering and services director Renato Duque and senior engineering executives, in the first broad raid of the investigation.

January 14, 2015 – Police arrest Nestor Cerveró, a former director of Petrobras's international division, at Rio de Janeiro's international airport as he arrives from London.

April 22, 2015 – Former Petrobras executive Paulo Roberto Costa is convicted of money laundering and racketeering.

June 19, 2015 – Odebrecht CEO Marcelo Odebrecht is arrested.

August 21, 2015 – Brazil's speaker of the lower house of Congress Eduardo Cunha and current senator Fernando Collor, a formerly-impeached president, are both charged with corruption.

September 4, 2014 – Brazil's former presidential chief of staff and Workers Party operative José Dirceu is charged with corruption.

September 21, 2015 – Ex-treasurer of ruling Workers Party João Vaccari gets lengthy jail term in Petrobras corruption scandal.

October 3, 2015 – Brazil's supreme court allows former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who had previously not been directly touched by the scandal, to be questioned in the Petrobras corruption case.

October 29, 2015 – Rolls Royce is alleged to be involved in Petrobras' web of corruption.

November 25, 2015 – André Esteves, chief executive of Brazil's largest independent investment bank BTG Pactual, and a powerful ruling party senator are arrested.

December 18, 2015 – Brazil's finance minister Joaquim Levy, whose push for a balanced budget had been sidelined by his government, resigns. He is replaced by party loyalist Nelson Barbosa.

Useful Links

Reuters
TIMELINE-Key moments in Brazil's Petrobras corruption probe
August 14, 2015

Brunswick Review
Making sense of Brazil's Lava Jato scandal
April 2015

Financial Times
Petrobras: Timeline of a scandal
February 4, 2015

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Pedro Nicolaci da Costa Former Research Staff
Monica de Bolle Senior Research Staff

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