The Brazilian Senate voted 44 to 26 on Tuesday to return Aecio Neves back to the legislative body. The vote in favor of Senator Neves is a blow to recent anti-corruption efforts in Brazil.
Latin America’s largest country is embroiled in a massive corruption scandal that began more than three years ago. The investigation called Operation Car Wash began in March 2014 initially started as a small investigation into money laundering by small businesses. Since then it has grown in scope to include the state-owned oil company PETROBRAS and 15 other companies.
So far, hundreds have been arrested and convicted of crimes, such as bribery and money laundering. More than 1,000 politicians have been accused of corruption related to operation car wash including many of the Senators who voted to overturn Neves’ suspension.
Aecios Neves was elected to the Senate in 2011 from Minas Gerais. He previously was President of the Chamber of Deputies from 2001 to 2002 and served as governor of Minas Gerais from 2003 to 2007. In 2014, Neves nearly beat Dilma Rousseff in the second round of the presidential election, receiving 48 percent of the vote compared to Rousseff’s 52 percent.
Neves rising star in Brazilian politics faded quickly in spring of 2017 when corruption allegations against the Senator materialized. Joesley Batista, head of the large meat packing company JBS, recorded several conversations he had with prominent politicians, including President Michel Temer and Senator Neves.
In a conversation between Neves and Batista, the Senator asked Batista for $700,000 to pay for his legal fees related to Operation Car Wash.
Senator Neves was suspended in May by the Supreme Federal Court. After several back and forths over the summer, the Court made a final ruling on October 11. In its decision, the Court ruled that only the Senate has the authority to suspend its members.
Corruption and the 2018 elections
The ongoing and multiple corruption investigations of prominent politicians inside and outside of Brasilia will undoubtedly play a defining role in next year’s presidential election.
The sitting President, Michel Temer, is not running for reelection. His administration has been plagued for months by corruption allegations related to a recorded conversation he had with the former JBS executive, Joesley Batista. In that conversation, President Temer suggests that Eduardo Cunha, the disgraced former-President of the Chamber of Deputies who was convicted of corruption-related crimes, should be paid off to keep his silence.
Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is currently the front-runner for next year’s presidential election. However, a felony conviction by a lower federal court may make him ineligible to run for office.
In July, Lula was convicted of corruption and money laundering. In particular, he was found guilty of accepting more than a million dollars in kickbacks to renovate a beachfront apartment. He was sentenced to nine and a half years in prison, and millions of dollars in assets were seized.
Lula appealed his conviction and remains free while his case goes through the appeals process. It is concerning that the current front-runner for the 2018 presidential race currently was convicted of corruption and may be ineligible to run for office if he loses his appeal.