Hundreds charged or jailed in Brazil's 'Car Wash' probe

Rio de Janeiro (AFP) –


Some of Brazil's biggest political and business names have been snared in the country's sprawling anti-corruption investigation that began in 2014 as a probe into money laundering at a car wash outlet in the capital Brasilia.

So far, 155 people have been convicted, including former leftist president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, after the Car Wash investigation uncovered a vast graft operation involving state oil firm Petrobras and major construction companies and bribes to politicians of several parties.

Hundreds more have been charged and some 13 billion reais ($3.4 billion) recovered in an investigation the federal prosecutor's office said this month was "far from over."

No one, it seems, is untouchable in the biggest anti-graft probe in Brazil's history.

Petrobras, one of the top companies in Latin America, has been badly damaged by the continuing scandal, as has public confidence in the political system.

The latest scalp is ex-president Michel Temer, who was arrested Thursday in Brazil's biggest city Sao Paulo on allegations that he was the leader of a criminal organization involved in corruption, embezzlement and money laundering.

The 78-year-old joins a growing list of political and business elite to fall foul of investigators during the five-year crackdown that reflects the incredible reach of Brazil's bribery problem.

But a recent Supreme Court ruling has raised fears that securing further convictions of politicians could get harder.

In a controversial decision this month, the Supreme Court said crimes such as money laundering that are connected to illegal campaign financing should be heard by electoral courts, not criminal courts.

The electoral judicial system "historically does not condemn or send anyone to jail," Diogo Castor, a Car Wash prosecutor in the southern city of Curitiba, told Brazilian news site O Antagonista recently.

But some methods used by prosecutors, such as preventative detention of suspects and denouncements in exchange for reduced sentences, have been criticized as an abuse of power.