The Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C., hosted a panel discussion on the corruption crisis in Brazil on July 19. Keynote speakers included Acting Assistant Attorney General of the United States, Kenneth Blanco, and Prosecutor General of Brazil, Rodrigo Janot, who is a lead prosecutor in the so-called Car Wash corruption investigation.
What started as a small 2014 investigation into money-laundering at a single Brazilian gas station has since grown to be one of the largest corruption scandals in recent decades. Operation Car Wash, or Lava Jato as it is called in Portuguese, has uncovered corruption involving some of Brazil’s top political leaders and most powerful businessmen. The operation has investigated bribery connected to the state-owned oil company Petrobras, in which executives accepted bribes in exchange for lucrative contracts with nine different construction firms. One of the firms connected to the probe is the largest construction company in Latin America, Odebrecht, whose CEO has been sentenced to 19 years in prison for paying more than $30 million USD in bribes to Petrobras. Odebrecht pleaded guilty in a US court to paying almost $800 million USD in bribes since the early 2000s in 12 countries and has been fined $3.5 billion USD by the US, Brazil and Switzerland.
In connection with the investigation, nearly 300 people have been accused and more than 150 have been convicted. Those convicted include numerous senators, cabinet officials, and even former presidents. The current president, Michel Temer, is facing corruption and obstruction of justice charges. Most recently, Brazil’s former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, colloquially known as Lula, has been convicted in court for accepting bribes in exchange for oil contract deals, and faces a sentence of 9.5 years in prison. The widespread corruption has implicated leaders in other Latin American countries as well, including Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo, and former Peruvian President Ollanta Humala.
Rodrigo Janot has played an important role in the investigation as Brazil’s top prosecutor general. He has recovered more than 4 billion reals (more than $1.2 billion USD) in connection with the investigation. Janot has worked with Acting Assistant Attorney General of the US, Kenneth Blanco, to convict those guilty of bribery and to return stolen assets. At the Atlantic Council event, Janot and Blanco shared their views on the importance of transparency, enforcement of the law in every circumstance and international cooperation.
The Car Wash investigation has reached the highest levels of Brazil’s society. Despite the political consequences, Janot asserted that this investigation is “not a political action, but applying the law, enforcing the law,” which demonstrates Brazil’s commitment to combating corruption. “The law that exists must be applied to everyone regardless of their religion, their race, or their status,” Janot said during the event. Under the law, Janot’s investigative team looks for criminals despite any political power those they convict might hold.
Blanco described the frustration of the Brazilian people with the vast amount of corruption in the country. He explained that “corruption inhibits fair and free competition to the detriment of innocent citizens and honest businesses that do not pay bribes.” However, with the vast scope of Operation Car Wash, Janot believes it is the pressure from civil society and the free press that have driven the efforts of the investigation and ensured that the proceedings remain transparent. Janot expressed his positive view on the outcome of the investigation in that he thinks “the ways and the steps taken are irreversible,” because he does not believe that the people will accept to go back to the way the system was before this investigation.
A point heavily stressed by Janot and Blanco is the importance of international cooperation in the fight against corruption. In a globalized world, crime is becoming increasingly transnational. Therefore, international cooperation is essential in the fight against corruption, asserts Blanco. He states that while criminals may not have borders, prosecutors do, and sovereignty must be respected while remaining cooperative with investigations, prosecutions and evidence sharing.
When asked by an audience member about investigative collaboration with international companies in the private sector, Janot spoke about the importance of having a compliance officer who understands the structure of the company. During investigations into an organization, Janot describes how helpful it is for his investigations when the company being investigated has a compliance officer because this person is more knowledgeable of the structure of and people linked to the company. The compliance officer can provide information critical to the investigation that an external investigator does not otherwise have access to.
Janot also spoke about the importance of corruption prevention measures that can be taken by an organization. He suggested that “the best way to deal with a crime is not to crack down on the crime but to prevent it because when a crime is committed there is damage and the damage is not going to be rolled back.”
Read the recap and watch the recording of the full event here.
Detailed strategies on enhancing anti-corruption programs can be found in CREATe’s recently released white paper Anti-Corruption Compliance: Using Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to Mature and Manage Programs as well as in numerous other resources on preventative measures against corruption located at www.CREATe.org/Resources.
CREATe.org’s wholly owned subsidiary – CREATe Compliance – also offers cost-effective and practical assessments, independent evaluations and improvement plans as part of the service: CREATe Leading Practices for Anti-Corruption.