Brazilians Adore Top Prosecutor After He Exposes Massive Corruption Web

Jun 6, 2017
Originally published on June 6, 2017 8:09 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now, a political storm in Brazil. The president there is in a desperate fight to stay in office. And today, a court will hear a case that could see Michel Temer removed from the presidency over campaign finance violations. There's also a larger corruption scandal causing Brazilians to search for new heroes in strange places. Here's NPR's Philip Reeves.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: We're in a bookshop with a huge line of people snaking through it. They're here to meet a young guy called Deltan Dallagnol.

(CROSSTALK)

REEVES: Dallagnol's signing copies of his new book. He poses for selfies with his fans who give him hugs and handshakes. Dallagnol's not a famous writer or a showbiz celebrity but a federal attorney. This crowd considers him a hero because he's lead prosecutor in an investigation that's exposed a massive web of corruption known as Lava Jato or Car Wash.

The investigation's led to the imprisonment of some of Brazil's most powerful politicians and businessmen. Presidents, Cabinet ministers, senators and corporate executives are in its crosshairs.

LUCIANA ASPER: We're cleaning the house.

REEVES: Luciana Asper's in the line waiting to meet Dallagnol. She's a lawyer and a big fan of the Car Wash investigation.

ASPER: It's exactly the meaning of hope. You know, people are holding onto this opportunity as a hope of a new beginning for Brazil.

REEVES: Rodrigo Prado’s also waiting in line. He's a lawyer who's done some work with the Car Wash investigators. Prado believes Brazilians are finally beginning to look at their corrupted leaders a little differently.

RODRIGO PRADO: What I think has really changed is that the myth of the friendly laid-back Brazilian has fallen down. People are angry.

REEVES: People are especially angry right now with their president, Michel Temer. The Supreme Court recently ordered an investigation into Temer for corruption and obstructing justice.

A secret recording's come to light in which the Brazilian president seems to endorse hush money payments to a jailed politician. Temer says the recording's doctored and denies the allegations. For many Brazilians though, he's yet another political leader in disgrace.

THIAGO DE ARAGAO: In a country that heroes are falling every day, the prosecutors are becoming the heroes that society wants.

REEVES: That's Thiago de Aragao, a political analyst and consultant. Powerful elements in Brazil are pushing back against the Car Wash investigation. That's one reason Dallagnol wrote his book about it. Aragao says it's important to publicize Car Wash because...

DE ARAGAO: Despite all the attempts to shut it down, you have to keep stories flowing to the press. And you need to maintain popular support through these engagements in which Dallagnol is putting himself to do.

DELTAN DALLAGNOL: (Speaking Portugese).

REEVES: Dallagnol's engagement in the bookshop includes a talk.

DALLAGNOL: (Speaking Portugese).

REEVES: "We're not heroes," the prosecutor tells the audience, "we're just civil servants doing our job."

The next night across town, a big crowd gathers to create a different famous man who certainly does not see Dallagnol as a hero. Brazil's Workers Party is holding a Congress, and its leader, Lula da Silva, is the star attraction.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in Portugese).

REEVES: Lula's served two terms as Brazil's president and wants a third. He may, however, be barred from running. Lula's a defendant in five corruption cases, most of them thanks to the Car Wash team. That doesn't appear to dent his ambition to lead Latin America's largest nation again.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LULA DA SILVA: (Speaking Portugese).

REEVES: "I don't want you to worry about my personal problems," says Lula. He claims he's already proved his innocence, and now it's up to prosecutors to prove his guilt. Back in the bookshop, everyone knows Brazil's Car Wash investigators still have a huge task ahead.

ASPER: Maybe in 10, 20, 30 years, we're going to have a totally new country. And that's what we have to hope for.

REEVES: Lawyer Luciana Asper believes it'll take quite a while for Brazil to clean house. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Brasilia.

(SOUNDBITE OF BONOBO'S "ONTARIO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.