Dirty money – how corruption rocks the presidential election

Dirty money – how corruption rocks the presidential election

People in Brazil have seen many corruption scandals, yet with less than a month to go before the general election, recent allegations about a widespread and orchestrated corruption scheme involving the current government have shocked Brazilian voters.

Former Petrobras director, Paulo Roberto Costa, has reportedly named numerous politicians, congressmen, governors and state ministers, who he says benefited from illicit payments from contracts with the Brazilian state-controlled petroleum company.

Costa was responsible for Petrobras’ refining and supply unit and he was jailed in March for money laundering. He has now entered a plea-bargaining deal with prosecutors for a lighter sentence by naming some of those who benefited from illegal money schemes.

Petrobras election scandalAmong the politicians named are current Mines and Energy Minister, Edson Lobão, both Senate and House Presidents, Renan Calheiros and Henrique Eduardo Alves and former presidential candidate, Eduardo Campos, who died in a plane crash last month. Costa was quoted in the local Brazilian press saying, “There was a politician knocking at my door every single day.”

Costa has also reportedly accused governors of states where Petrobras operates large projects, telling the police that companies doing business with Petrobras were forced to give money to the scheme.

Clean record

This year, for the first time, Brazil has its “clean record” law in place during a national-level election. Passed in 2010, the legislation aims to bar corrupt candidates from office.

The legislation first came about through a popular petition. Known as the “Lei da Ficha Limpa,” the law bars candidates from running for public office for eight years if they have been convicted of a serious crime, lost their political positions due to corruption, or resigned to avoid impeachment.

National Congress

Brazil's National CongressDilma Rousseff who heads the current government came to power in 2011 vowing to fight corruption and she sacked a number of officials involved in corruption in 2012 as part of faxina or “house-cleaning”.  She has dismissed Costa’s allegations as “unfounded rumors” but opposition politicians have voiced their disbelief that Dilma Rousseff knew nothing about the corrupt payments and have accused the ruling Worker’s Party of using dirty money to stay in power. At the very least, as Rousseff was the former chairwoman of Petrobras, the claims threaten her reputation.


Brazil is a country typically vulnerable to corruption despite a high level of economic regulation and government involvement. It has multiple agency levels with a large number of officials in charge of enforcing a multitude of economic policies and restrictions. It also has a political and judicial system that has often been accused of corruption. Various scandals involving the bribery of officials from all levels of government have been documented in correlation with the growth of Brazil’s economy.

handshakeCorruption is both a major cause and a result of poverty around the world. People’s effective participation and representation in society can be undermined by corruption, and corruption can make day to day lives more painful for all affected. Corruption affects everyone as corruption undermines political development, democracy, economic development, the environment, people’s health and more, but it hurts the poorest most, in rich or poor nations.

Corruption is a major drain on the Brazil economy involving tens of billions of dollars annually. It is pervasive at all levels of Brazilian society where politicians are accused of manipulating the very poorest and most illiterate people by openly offering payments and benefits ahead of elections and only registering people for welfare payments in exchange for votes.

When states are run as private fiefdoms by governing families, controlling and exploiting the poor, it is difficult to see how the dream of a Brasil Sem Miséria (Brazil without destitution) can ever be realized.


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