Amidst an acute political crisis, President Michel Temer announced on Sunday a new Minister of Justice. Out goes Osmar Serraglio, for lawyer Torquato Jardim.
People close to the President confirm that the move has two main reasons. First, the government wants to have a tighter grip over the Federal Police (which is under the Ministry of Justice). But the government also wants to have more influence over Brazil’s Superior Electoral Court.
In 10 days, the court will start a trial that could unseat Michel Temer. And Torquato Jardim, a former Electoral Justice himself, will offer a better dialogue with the tribunal.
Is Operation Car Wash in danger?
It is by no means new that the government is trying to tamper with Operation Car Wash, a vast corruption investigation into the federal administration. Last year, Temer’s former Minister of Planning was caught on tape defending some action to “stop the bleeding” caused by the operation.
Last week, an audio of Temer and businessman Joesley Batista raised more red flags. The duo talked about bribing federal prosecutors and even paying hush money to a former Speaker of the House currently in jail.
The name of Torquato Jardim is not a reassurance for the Federal Police. Earlier this month, the now Minister of Justice criticized Operation Car Wash. He said that the lengthy preventive arrests could lead to the annulment of the investigation’s plea deals.
About a possible change of command in the Federal Police, Jardim was anything but assertive. “We have to reflect on it, of course. I’ll listen to the President, his Secretary-Executive, and do my own due diligence before any decision,” he said.
Per Brazilian newspaper Estadão, the Ministry of Justice has increasingly cut Operation Car Wash’s budget. The Federal Police Paraná Division, responsible for the investigation, has gotten 20.5 million BRL in 2017, against 29.1 million BRL one year ago.
In fact, besides the reduced budget, the government has also frozen 44 percent of the budget.
Federal marshals said that, with less money, it is harder for the police to launch operations in different cities.
In 2014, the first year of the operation, the division had a 44 percent budget increase. That led to a total of 21 police operations under the Car Wash umbrella.
Minister of Transparency
While Temer fired Serraglio, it was pivotal for the president to keep him as a minister. Serraglio’s replacement in the House of Representatives is Rodrigo Rocha Loures, a personal assistant to Temer.
Rocha Loures was filmed carrying a bag with 500,000 BRL in corruption money – allegedly for Temer. If he were to lose his office in the House, he would also lose the legal privileges that come attached to the position.
Losing those prerogatives would mean being under the juristiction of the tough Federal Judge Sérgio Moro, famous for ordering lengthy prison stints to defendants that are motivating plea deals.
As Rocha Loures could destroy the president’s legal situation, the government is scrambling to keep him out of Moro’s reach. It is ironic, though, that the new Ministry of Transparency is a man who implicated in the rotten meat scandal.