Brazil shuts down Car Wash anti-corruption squad

Thursday, February 04, 2021


Brazil’s Car Wash anti-corruption unit has formally shut down, the end of an era for a team of prosecutors that helped send dozens of Latin American political and business leaders to jail, and several former presidents.

The task force, which emerged from a routine money-laundering investigation into a car wash in Brasilia, ceased to exist on Monday, although its dissolution was not declared until Wednesday by the federal prosecutors’ office (MPF).

Some of its prosecutors will be moved to the organized crime unit of the MPF, where they will keep working, the agency’s statement said.

The Car Wash squad started its work in 2014, focusing on contracting graft at state-run oil company Petrobras, although their scope quickly expanded. Former presidents and major companies across Latin America, thought for years to be untouchable, were implicated in sprawling corruption schemes uncovered by the investigators.

Among major figures sent to jail because of the investigation was former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Outside of Brazil, ex-presidents in Peru, El Salvador, and Panama were also jailed as a result of investigations started by the task force. Major international companies, such as Maersk and Glencore, have also come under the investigators’ microscope.

But many leftists were aware of the investigation, in part due to the jailing of Lula, while a series of leaked conversations in 2019 raised questions about whether investigators were slashing corners to secure prosecutions.

Corruption investigations into family members of right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro have made some conservatives suspicious of efforts to fight corruption as well.

That had left the future of Car Wash in doubt, even as its work remained popular among people of the country. In September, Brazilian Prosecutor-General Augusto Aras extended the task force’s mandate until January 31 but did not tell if he would renew it.

According to its own data, the Car Wash task force was responsible for 295 arrests, 278 convictions, and 4.3 billion reais ($803 million) in ill-gotten gains being returned to the Brazilian state during its approximately seven years of operation.

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