General to head Brazilian spy agency in Bolsonaro’s military-dominated cabinet

Augusto HelenoA retired general, who rose through the military’s ranks during Brazil’s 20-year dictatorship, will head the country’s intelligence agency as one of several military men in the new cabinet of President Jair Bolsonaro. Augusto Heleno, 71, was sworn in on Tuesday as head of the Institutional Security Cabinet (GSI), which advises the president on security policy and oversees Brazil’s intelligence and counterterrorism services. Heleno is one of four retired generals who are included in Bolsonaro’s 22-member cabinet. The latter also includes an admiral, an Army lieutenant, an Army captain, and a former professor at the Brazilian Army Staff College. Bolsonaro himself is a former Army captain, who served 27 years as a member of Congress before winning last October’s elections and becoming Brazil’s 38th president.

The 2014-2016 economic recession, the worst in Brazil’s history, was instrumental in helping propel Bolsonaro to the presidency, as was the so-called “car wash” scandal, known in Portuguese as Lava Jato. The term refers to a money-laundering probe that began in 2014, following allegations of illicit financial practices by a number of private import-export companies in Brazil. The Lava Jato probe led to the exposure of large-scale corruption, nepotism and bribing practices at the core of Brazil’s state-owned oil company Petrobras. As of this year, the ongoing investigation into Lava Jato has implicated nearly 200 people, many of them well-known politicians. Among them is Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s leftist former president, who is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence for corruption and money laundering.

During his inauguration ceremony on Tuesday, Bolsonaro pledged to “rid Brazil of socialism” and said that the country’s flag “would never turn red”. In previous speeches, some of them in Congress, Bolsonaro has expressed support for the military junta that ruled the country between 1964 and 1985. It is unsurprising, then, that nearly half his newly installed cabinet consists of members of the military with favorable views on the dictatorship. Bolsonaro’s choice for vice president, Hamilton Mourão, sparked controversy in recent weeks by saying that the military could suspend the Brazilian constitution if lawlessness and anarchy became endemic. In addition, several members of Bolsonaro’s cabinet have dismissed the phenomenon of global warming as a conspiracy and a few have called for a “holy Christian alliance” between Brazil, the United States and Russia.

Heleno, the new head of the GSI, served as a military attaché at the embassy of Brazil in Paris, before joining the country’s diplomatic mission in Brussels. His first post following his retirement was as commander of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti. Like Bolsanaro, Heleno has also expressed support for Brazil’s 20-year military junta. In 2011, he said that the country’s Armed Forces had “defended public order” and “prevented the Cubanization” of Brazil during the Cold War. In his first public address as GSI director on Tuesday, Heleno said that the intelligence functions of the GSI would be “rescued” from the “meltdown” that he claimed they had experienced under the previous government. He also accused Bolsonaro’s immediate predecessor, President Dilma Rousseff, of governing as a leader who “did not believe in the intelligence services”. Rousseff, a member of Loula’s Worker’s Party, was a Marxist militant who was captured, tortured and jailed from 1970 to 1972 by the military government.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 January 2019 | Permalink

Argentina’s spy chief allegedly implicated in Brazil money-laundering scandal

Gustavo ArribasThe director of Argentina’s spy agency has been accused by security officials in Brazil of being implicated in a multi-million dollar money-laundering scandal that involves dozens of senior officials across Latin America. The allegations were made in the context of the so-called “operation car wash”, known in Portuguese as Operação Lava Jato. The term refers to a money-laundering probe that began in 2014, following allegations of illegal financial practices by a number of private import-export companies in Brazil. Soon, however, Lava Jato led to the exposure of large-scale corruption, nepotism and bribing practices at the core of Brazil’s state-owned oil company Petrobras. Today, four years later, the constantly expanding investigation has implicated nearly 200 people —many of them well-known politicians— in numerous Latin American countries, including Mexico, Peru and Venezuela.

On Thursday, the car wash probe appeared to implicate for the first time a senior state official in Argentina. The figure at the center of the allegations is Gustavo Arribas (pictured), the Director General of the country’s Federal Intelligence Agency (AFI). A former sports tycoon, who made his fortune as a footballers’ representative, he surprised many in December 2015 when he was appointed spy director by Argentina’s President, Mauricio Macri. Arribas has financial dealings with Brazil, where he owns real estate. But these properties may become liabilities after Arribas was accused by Victor Ferreira, a federal police official and Lava Jato investigator, of having received nearly $1 million in a money-laundering scheme involving fraudulent invoices submitted for financial compensation to the Brazilian government by bogus companies. The money was allegedly sent to Arribas via a wire transfer that was routed to him through a bank in Hong King. The transfer had not been approved by the Central Bank of Brazil, which is supposed to supervise all overseas money transfers involving government contracts.

Brazilian prosecutors served several suspects across Brazil with search warrants on Thursday, in an attempt to uncover more information about the alleged illegal money transfer. Arribas, however, issued a statement later on the same day, in which he denied any connection with Lava Jato and said that allegations against him were motivated by malice. In 2016, Arribas was accused in Argentina of having received nearly $600,000 from corrupt officials of Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, which is implicated in operation car wash. However, he was cleared by a federal judge, who threw the case out of court. In his statement issued on Thursday, Arribas stressed that he had not been officially charged with any crime in Argentina or Brazil.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 02 March 2018 | Permalink

Brazil launches probe into plane crash that killed senior corruption investigator

Teori ZavasckiBrazilian authorities have launched an investigation into last week’s plane crash that killed the leading judge in the largest corruption probe in the nation’s history, involving government officials and two giant companies. Supreme Court judge Teori Zavascki died last Thursday with two other people, when the small airplane they were on crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. The Beechcraft King Air C90 that was carrying Zavascki went down near the Brazilian town of Paraty, located 300 miles east of Sao Paulo. Zavascki, was appointed to Brazil’s Supreme Court in 2012, at the age of 64. He soon earned a nationwide reputation for being a relentless prosecutor of Brazil’s notoriously corrupt governmental and corporate elite. In 2015, his reputation soared even further, after he ordered the arrest of Delcídio do Amaral, a leading member of the ruling Workers’ Party, who was serving as Senate speaker and head of the Senate’s Committee on Economic Affairs. Amaral was found guilty of having received bribes from Brazil’s state-owned oil company, Petrobras, and removed from the Senate.

In October 2016, Zavascki ordered the arrest of Eduardo Cunha, President of Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies, and the man who had a few months earlier led the impeachment of Brazil’s disgraced former President, Dilma Rousseff. Cuhna’s arrest was part of so-called Operation Carwash, an enormous corruption investigation involving dozens of leading Brazilian politicians, who are accused of having taken bribes from Petrobras and Odebrecht, Brazil’s largest construction company. This coming February, Zavascki was scheduled to publicize a series of plea-bargain settlements, involving nearly 80 Odebrecht senior executives. It is believed that the plea bargains will implicate a large number of well-known Brazilian politicians, including Brazil’s President, Michel Temer, and his two immediate predecessors, Rousseff and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Shortly after Thursday’s plane crash, there was widespread speculation on social media that Zavascki’s death was not an accident. Several notable public figures in Brazil expressed concern about the timing of the judge’s death. They included detective Márcio Anselmo, the senior federal police investigator in Operation Carwash. On Friday, authorities launched an official investigation into the plane crash, which will inevitably remain in the news headlines for weeks, as the Supreme Court struggles to keep Operation Carwash alive. Several public figures have expressed strong concern about possible delays in the investigation, which could enable those being probed to evade justice. In a bizarre twist of fate, President Temer will now be expected to nominate a judge to take Justice Zavascki’s place on the Supreme Court, while knowing that his own name may be implicated in the ongoing corruption investigation.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 January 2017 | Permalink