Brazil’s federal police have announced that they are shutting down the task force behind Operation Car Wash, a behemoth corruption probe that has sent dozens of top politicians and business executives to jail.
The task force, which has been operating as an independent unit, will be absorbed into a larger anti-corruption division. Federal police shrugged off the move as bureaucratic reshuffling, but critics labeled the decision an attempt to undermine an investigation that is redefining Brazil’s political landscape.
In three years, Operation Car Wash ballooned from a money-laundering probe focused on a Brasilia gas station into the country’s biggest corruption investigation. Through plea deals, the task force was able to trace bribery and corruption to the highest echelons of government. Today, the probe threatens to topple the country’s president, Michel Temer, who is being investigated along with a third of the members of Brazil’s senate, dozens of representatives in its house and more than half of the president’s cabinet.
The decision is the latest blow to the task force, which saw its budget halved in May. Prosecutors working on the cases say the move will limit the scope of investigations the task force is able to take on.
“The federal police’s Car Wash task force, drastically shrunk by the current government, is not large enough to meet its demands,” prosecutors said in a statement.
Several senators criticized the action and questioned the motives behind it. “This is a deliberate attempt at obstruction of justice by a president who is implicated in the Car Wash investigation,” said Randolfe Rodrigues, an opposition senator. He called the decision “morally offensive.