Early this morning, Brazil’s Senate voted to move forward with President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment trial. Under Brazilian law, Dilma must immediately step down from office for the duration of the trial, which could be as long as six months.
Dilma’s impeachment on corruption charges would not be unprecedented. But the manner in which these damaging facts came to light is indeed new, and powerful evidence of the changes now taking place in Brazil.
Remember that Dilma is not being tried for impeachment because of any alleged participation in the Petrobras scandal (though suspicions of her involvement, or at least knowledge, are rampant). Rather, Dilma allegedly committed fraud in her annual federal accounting. And how was this discovered?
Brazil has a federal accounting court, called the TCU. That body is comprised mainly of ministers, who are politically appointed (and mostly former politicians) and non-political auditors. While the auditors are widely regarded as competent, the ministers were historically perceived as politically loyal and unwilling to disclose damaging facts.
But here, when the auditors discovered Dilma’s fraud, they were able to convince the ministers that action must be taken. The TCU ministers took the extraordinarily unusual step of rejecting the president’s accounting. This rejection was the first domino to fall in the series of events that culminated today in her removal from office.
Brazil is changing. Culturally, legally, and institutionally, the country is no longer tolerating corruption. The so-called jeitinho Brasileiro has lost its charm. Dilma’s removal should be seen not as a crisis, but as a triumph for the rule of law.
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For further discussion of Brazil’s historic anti-corruption moment, see my ebook and webpage at law.richmond.edu/olympics/.
Andy Spalding is a Senior Editor of the FCPA Blog and Associate Professor at the University of Richmond School of Law. He’ll be a moderator and panelist at the FCPA Blog NYC Conference 2016.