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Andy Spalding: Brazil’s Anti-Corruption Revolution Continues

Brazil’s Supreme Court has authorized a federal investigation into Brazilian President Michel Temer’s role in the sprawling corruption scandal known as Operation Car Wash. If Temer’s presidency does not survive the investigation — and I’m betting it won’t — it will be another chapter in what may be the most dramatic anti-corruption enforcement story this world has ever seen.

Brazil’s anti-corruption revolution has already toppled former President Dilma Rousseff, Speaker of the House Eduardo Cunha, and a couple of Temer’s ministers. It is rumored to reach an estimated 60 percent of Brazil’s Congress. Yes, 60 percent. It makes the U.S. Watergate scandal feel like playing in the sandbox.

But more remarkable yet is the number of Brazilian institutions working together to build a credible anti-corruption regime. Brazil’s principal anti-corruption agency (formerly the CGU, now the Transparency Ministry) drafted a dramatic anti-corruption law. Brazil’s Congress in a single year passed that law, as well as an organized crime law. These laws gave Brazil’s federal prosecutors the tools they needed to go after corruption, as they are doing now. The judiciary, particularly Judge Sergio Moro and, separately, the Supreme Court, have not backed down from their constitutional duties. And Brazil’s federal auditing court, the TCU, exposed the accounting improprieties that led to Rousseff’s impeachment.

But as these institutions continue to purge Brazil’s elected officials, one starts to wonder: is there such a thing as a corruption revolution that goes too far? Or at least, too fast? History of course provides no shortage of well-meaning revolutions gone awry. People are asking the same question in China, as the bureaucracy has ground nearly to a halt — the anti-corruption movement there has government officials frozen in their tracks.  And now Brazil can’t seem to keep a president in office. Who thought, just a few years ago, that we’d now be asking not whether Brazil was doing enough to crack down on corruption, but whether it was doing too much?

Put another way, when we one day look back at Brazil’s anti-corruption moment, will it more closely resemble the American Revolution, or the French? I, for one, remain quite bullish on Brazil. Let’s not forget that people doubted the wisdom of the American Revolution too.

For more on Brazil’s anti-corruption moment, please see our e-book and related sources at law.richmond.edu/olympics.

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Andy Spalding is a Senior Editor of the FCPA Blog and Associate Professor at the University of Richmond School of Law. He’s the author of the ebook Olympic Anti-Corruption Report: Brazil and the Rio 2016 Games (available here). He’ll be a speaker at the FCPA Blog NYC Conference 2016.

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