Landmark 'Car Wash' investigation ends with a whimper in Brazil

WION Web Team
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Published: Feb 06, 2021, 06:14 PM(IST)

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro (file photo). Photograph:( AFP )

Story highlights

The long list of people sent to jail by the investigation and its international spinoffs includes former presidents Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil, Alejandro Toledo of Peru and Ricardo Martinelli of Panama, plus top executives at Petrobras, Odebrecht and several other firms

One of the biggest corruption investigations in history, Brazil's 'Operation Car Wash,' which felled presidents and powerful players across Latin America, wrapped up this week after falling into scandal itself. 

The task force, which began as a probe into money laundering at a Brasilia gas station in March 2014, soon blew the lid off a sprawling tangle of corruption reaching the highest levels of government and industry in Brazil, with tentacles stretching across Latin America and into Africa. 

Using aggressive plea-bargain tactics to get suspects to rat out their superiors, prosecutors uncovered how politicians systematically conspired with executives at companies, such as Brazilian oil giant Petrobras and construction giant Odebrecht to inflate government contracts and pocket the proceeds for themselves and their parties. 

A fearsome force whose exploits inspired a movie and Netflix series, the hard-hitting prosecutors shared their dirt with colleagues around the world. 

The long list of people sent to jail by the investigation and its international spinoffs includes former presidents Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil, Alejandro Toledo of Peru and Ricardo Martinelli of Panama, plus top executives at Petrobras, Odebrecht and several other firms. 

But despite the operation's spectacular list of accomplishments -- 174 people convicted in Brazil, 12 current or former presidents implicated across Latin America, $790 million returned to Brazil's public coffers, with nearly $2.8 billion more on the way -- the attorney general's office announced on Wednesday without fanfare that its main investigative team had been disbanded. 

Ironically, the news came under a leader who arguably owes his job to Car Wash: far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, the self-styled outsider, who rode a wave of anti-establishment outrage to victory in Brazil's 2018 elections. 

"The politician who most benefited from Brazil's anti-corruption probe has put the final nail in its coffin," Brazilian sociologist Celso Rocha de Barros wrote in Americas Quarterly. 

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