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These 5 Facts Explain the State of Global Corruption  October 16, 2019 – 11:34 am

Brazil ProtestsDemonstrators hold a sign that reads in Portuguese "Dilma out" during a protest demanding the impeachment of Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Aug. 16, 2015 Andre Penner—AP

You can learn a lot about a country’s politics by looking closely at its corruption scandals. Who is investigating whom? What do the investigators really hope to achieve? And what do the investigations tell us about the country’s true balance of power? These five facts offer examples and answers.

1. Brazil

Brazil’s so-called Car Wash corruption scandal, which appears on the verge of bringing down a president, centers on Petrobras, the state-run oil giant. Last March, a top Petrobras official admitted that the company was awarding contracts in exchange for bribes, some of which were diverted to political slush funds. Brazil’s current president, Dilma Rousseff, was energy minister and chairwoman of Petrobras when the alleged kickbacks took place, though she has yet to be directly implicated in any wrongdoing.

But with an approval rating of just 21.8 percent, plenty of Brazilians see her as guilty by association—55.6 percent of Brazilians want to see her impeached. Former president and Rousseff mentor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was recently detained for questioning by police. Dozens of politicians are now under investigation, the vast majority of whom belong to Rousseff’s party. This is a country with a long history of official corruption: Four of five living former presidents are currently under investigation for one thing or another.


Tensions boiled over this weekend, and some 3 million Brazilians took to the streets. This type of social unrest would be a worrying sign for the country’s economy, but the Brazilian stock market surged 18 percent on news of Lula’s detention and speculation that Rousseff might finally be impeached—speculation that will grow stronger with the news that Rousseff may have offered Lula a cabinet post to help give him greater immunity from foreign prosecutors. And that’s the main takeaway here: Brazil is a country with a genuinely independent and empowered investigator capable of putting the country’s most powerful under a public microscope. Anti-corruption drives can create political chaos in the short-term, but they can benefit the country in the long-term if sunlight is used properly as a disinfectant.


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