Corruption claims flood Brazilian TV

Sebastian Smith
In hopes of getting reduced sentences, 77 former executives opened up to prosecutors, telling them how Odebrecht ran a special department to bribe every political party and many of the country's most famous politicians

Brazilians are glued to a mesmerizing, disturbing new version of reality TV: back-to-back broadcasts of jailed executives accusing President Michel Temer and almost every other big politician of corruption.

Move over torrid telenovelas and BBB, as Big Brother Brazil is known: a bigger, badder and certainly far more serious drama dominated Thursday.

Soaps have their melodramatic lovers and BBB its cast of telegenic exhibitionists. The stars of this show, playing ceaselessly on national television, are mostly balding middle-aged men with glasses.

But their story is the most explosive Brazil has seen for decades.

They are the 77 former executives of major Brazilian engineering company Odebrecht who have pleaded guilty to running Brazil's biggest ever bribery network.

In hopes of getting reduced sentences, the executives opened up to prosecutors, telling them how Odebrecht ran a special department to bribe every political party and many of the country's most famous politicians.

For months, all that testimony -- in the form of videotaped depositions and documents -- remained sealed.

But late Tuesday, Supreme Court Justice Edson Fachin ordered investigations into nearly 100 politicians on the basis of the Odebrecht allegations. And soon after, the plea bargain testimony was released to the public.

In barely disguised panic, the nation's capital emptied, legislators deserting Congress. By Thursday they showed no sign of returning.

But wherever politicians went they wouldn't be able to avoid Globo television and other outlets, endlessly replaying the videotaped testimony. Corruption had become the biggest show on air.

- Lies and videotape -

Top billing goes to Marcelo Odebrecht, who was CEO of the family enterprise and, until his arrest in the sweeping corruption investigation named "Operation Car Wash," one of Brazil's most prestigious businessmen.

Odebrecht was sentenced to 19 years prison in 2016. On the videos, he wears a collared shirt and sometimes a blazer, looking like a self-confident executive as he recounts his crimes -- and alleged political partners -- in detail.

Odebrecht is heard saying that he illicitly funnelled about $144 million to the politicians being investigated.

Odebrecht and his former colleagues finger just about every top leader, including President Michel Temer and ex-presidents Dilma Rousseff, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and three more former heads of state.

Many of the company's payments were in the form of undeclared donations to political parties, which prosecutors say amounted to a kind of generalized bribe buying influence right across the political spectrum.

"Everyone committed this crime," Odebrecht is heard saying. "I don't know a single politician who went through any election without" the slush funds.

Twisting the knife, the disgraced executive turned state's witness says: "The guy can even say he didn't know, but he received the money."

As it happens, Temer is one of the few prominent politicians not to appear on the list of those facing investigation. As a sitting president, he has immunity.

However, any initial relief he felt must have been dented by the clip of former executive Marcio Faria telling prosecutors that Odebrecht bribed Temer's PMDB party at a 2010 meeting presided over by the then future president.

A deal was struck in Temer's Sao Paulo office for Odebrecht to win a contract with state oil giant Petrobras and "it was clear that we were talking about a bribe," Faria said.

Allegedly Odebrecht was to pay the PMDB $40 million, or five percent of the contract's value.

Until then, Temer had tried to stay above the fray, urging calm in Brasilia. But publication of Faria's testimony dragged him right into the muck.

He replied by a video of his own Thursday, saying that "what repulses me are lies."

"It’s a fact that I participated in a meeting in 2010 with a representative of one of the largest firms in the country," he said.

"But it is a lie that in our meeting I would have heard reference to financial amounts or scandalous business between the company and politicians."

"My greatest ally is the truth, the raw material of the justice system, which will reveal all the truth of the facts."