Brazilians weary of the corruption scandal engulfing their country will not be pleased to learn that 350 new investigations are to begin, springing from the testimony of 77 former executives of construction giant Odebrecht, and that the new probes will reach into the highest levels of government.
The news came this week when a senior Brazilian prosecutor said the Odebrecht testimony expanded the three-year-old Lava Jato ("Car Wash") corruption probe far beyond expectations, and would pull in top congressmen and senior members of the executive branch.
Observers in Brazil say the new revelations could even topple the government of President Michel Temer, and sidetrack economic reforms intended to lift Brazil out of economic turmoil.
The expanded investigations would also bring in several other countries not yet investigating Odebrecht, the prosecutor, Carlos Lima, told Reuters.
"There will be no doubt left about the immense extent of corruption in the Brazilian political system, from top to bottom. It is going to be on view for the entire world to see," Lima, who is the dean of a team of prosecutors in southern Brazil driving the Lava Jato probe, told Reuters in an exclusive interview.
He said it would show how corruption was endemic at all levels of government, from municipal to federal, as construction firms shelled out billions in bribes in exchange for lucrative government contracts, he said.
Once it is known who is not involved, the mood of those not under investigation will be more positive, and I believe they will see that it’s useless to try to pass amnesties or other measures to allow those who are corrupt to escape justice– Carlos Lima, Odebrecht prosecutor
In December 2016 Odebrecht pleaded guilty to bribery and agreed pay billions of dollars to resolve charges with authorities in the US, Brazil and Switzerland arising from schemes to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to government officials around the world.
As a result of that process Brazil’s political class is extremely worried about more than 950 depositions given by 77 Odebrecht executives, which are expected to be made public soon.
"Between the cases that will go to the Supreme Court and those that will land here with us in Curitiba, there will be upward of 350 new investigations that will begin," Lima told Reuters Tuesday in his office in the southern city of Curitiba.
Lima would not comment on whether the Odebrecht revelations implicate President Michel Temer himself, who took over from Dilma Rousseff, who was impeached last year. However, he said the testimonies would make clear who in government was implicated, and those who were not would give new impetus to the legal process.
"Once it is known who is not involved, the mood of those not under investigation will be more positive, and I believe they will see that it’s useless to try to pass amnesties or other measures to allow those who are corrupt to escape justice," Lima said, according to Reuters.
Brazilian political scientist Sergio PraÃ§a told Reuters that Temer’s government is vulnerable. He told Reuters that "once the Odebrecht testimony really hits, even if Temer’s government survives, which it very well may not, it will have absolutely no political force".
"There will be total paralysis," PraÃ§a added. "No more reforms will pass because this government is going to implode. Nothing will get done until a new president is elected."
Image: Brazilian President Michel Temer, centre, during a meeting of the Council for Economic and Social Development, November 2016 (Agencia Brasil/Creative Commons)