Operation Car Wash

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Operation Car Wash
(Portuguese: Operação Lava Jato)
Montagem Lava Jato.jpg

(L–R, top to bottom:) Headquarters of Petrobras in Rio de Janeiro; Emblem of the Federal Police of Brazil; Judge Sérgio Moro; Deltan Dallagnol with Rodrigo Janot; Federal Police in an operation; Odebrecht logo

Country: Brazil
Since: 17 March 2014
Judge: Curitiba:
  • Sérgio Moro
    17 Mar 2014 – 2 November 2018
  • Gabriela Hardt
    presiding as substitute until 6 March 2019
  • Luiz Antonio Bonat
    6 Mar 2019 – present
Judge: Rio de Janeiro:
  • Marcelo Bretas
Judge: Brasília:
  • Vallisney de Souza Oliveira
Number of indicted people: 429[1]
Number of convicted people: 159[1]
Number of companies involved: 18[1]
Number of investigated people: 429[1]
Misappropriated Petrobras funds: R$6.2 billion[2] (US$2.5 billion[3]:16)
Reimbursement requested by Petrobras: R$46.3 billion[4]:147 (c. US$12 billion)
Recovered funds: R$3.28 billion[1][2]:17[4]:321 (US$912 million[3]:17)
Atonement paid by Petrobras:
  • US$682.6 million to Brazilian Government[4]:18[3]:17
  • US$85.3 million to US DoJ[2]:18[3]:17
Last updated: May 2019.

Operation Car Wash (Portuguese: Operação Lava Jato) is an ongoing criminal investigation being carried out by the Federal Police of Brazil, Curitiba Branch. It was initially judicially commanded by Judge Sérgio Moro, and currently (as of 2019) by Judge Luiz Antonio Bonat.[5]

Initially a money laundering investigation, it has expanded to cover allegations of corruption at Petrobras, where executives allegedly accepted bribes in return for awarding contracts to construction firms at inflated prices; this criminal "system" is known as "Petrolão" because the scandal involved the state-controlled oil company.[6] The investigation is called "Operation Car Wash" because it was first uncovered at a car wash in Brasília, and has included more than a thousand warrants for search and seizure, temporary and preventive detention, and plea bargain coercive measures, with the aim of ascertaining the extent of a money laundering scheme, that in 2015 the Regional Superintendent of the Federal Police of Parana State officially reported an estimation of R$6.4–42.8 billion (US$2–13 billion) embezzlement of Petrobras funds.[7][8]:60[2]:16

The name Operation Car Wash was chosen because the alleged ring used a currency exchange and money transfer service at the Posto da Torre (Tower Gas Station) and lava jato (car wash) in Brasília to move illicit payments.[9]

At least eleven other countries, mostly in Latin America, were involved, and the Brazilian company, Odebrecht, was deeply implicated.[10]

The corruption scandal grew in part because it challenged the impunity of politicians and business leaders that had prevailed until then. Structural corruption in the political and economic system, no longer tolerated or accepted, was now being investigated and resulted in some criminal charges; this change was made possible because of the independence of the judiciary.[11] Judge Sergio Moro's Operation Car Wash investigation indicted seemingly untouchable politicians, including the former presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff,[11] it succeeded because of ‘rewarded collaboration’ and the strategy of first targeting businesspeople, then using their statements against politicians.[10]


The initial accusation came from businessman Hermes Magnus in 2008, who reported an attempt to launder money through his company, Dunel Indústria e Comércio, a manufacturer of electronic components. Ensuing investigations culminated in the identification of four large criminal rings, headed by:

Investigation at first focused on the four black-market currency dealers and improper payments to Alberto Youssef by companies that won contracts at the Petrobras Abreu & Lima Refinery. After they discovered that "doleiro" (black market dealer) Alberto Youssef had acquired a Range Rover Evoque for Paulo Roberto Costa, a former director of Petrobras, the investigation expanded nationwide. Costa agreed after he was charged to provide evidence for the investigation.[12] A newly adopted law introduced 'rewarded collaboration' (i.e., plea bargaining) in Brazil, or sentence reductions when the defendant cooperated. Costa's submission illuminated the way political parties controlled the state-owned oil company Petrobras.[13]

It also led to a wave of arrests. Fernando Soares, also known as "Fernando Baiano," a businessman and lobbyist, was allegedly the connection between the governing parties Workers’ Party and PMDB and the major Brazilian construction firms[14]. After Costa and Soares, many more agreed to collaborate with the prosecution and from 2014 and February 2016, the Federal Public Prosecutors formulated 37 criminal charges against 179 people, mostly of politicians and businessmen[11]. In December 2017 nearly three hundred people had been accused of crimes in the scandal.[15] After Marcelo Odebrecht, grandson of the company founder, was sentenced to 19 years in prison, he and other Odebrecht executives were willing to act as witnesses and to give information about the overall corruption scheme, because of the sentence reduction incentives of the ‘Rewarded Collaboration’ Law. Odebrecht had a secret branch used for illegal payments in several Latin American countries, from Hugo Chávez in Venezuela to Ricardo Martinelli in Panama.[10] Odebrecht was charged with fines totalling $2.6 billion by authorities of Brazil, Switzerland and the United States after they admitted bribing officials in twelve countries for around $788 million.[15]

Costa and Youssef entered into a plea bargain with prosecutors and the scope of the investigation widened to nine major Brazilian construction firms:

as well as politicians involved with Petrobras. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who chaired the board of Petrobras from 2003 to 2010, denied knowledge of any wrongdoing;[16] the Brazilian Supreme Court authorized the investigation of 48 current and former legislators, including former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, in March 2016.[6] Eduardo Cunha, president of the Chamber of Deputies of Brazil from 2015 to 2016, was accused of taking approximately US$40 million in bribes and hiding funds in secret bank accounts, he is presently incarcerated.[17]

On 19 January 2017, a small plane carrying Supreme Court Justice Teori Zavascki crashed into the sea near the tourist city of Paraty in the state of Rio de Janeiro, killing the magistrate and four other people. Zavascki had been handling Operation Car Wash corruption trials.[18]

A Miami Herald report noted in September 2017 that when Operation Car Wash began, fewer than 10,000 electronic monitoring bracelets were in use to enforce home detentions sentences; by September 2017 the number had ballooned to more than 24,000.[19]

Effect on Petrobras[edit]

Petrobras delayed reporting its annual financial results for 2014, and in April 2015 released "audited financial statements" showing $2.1 billion in bribes and a total of almost $17 billion in write-downs due to graft and overvalued assets,[20] which the company characterized as a "conservative" estimate. Had the report been delayed by another week, Petrobras bondholders would have had the right to demand early repayment. Petrobras also suspended dividend payments for 2015. Due in part to the impact of the scandal, as well as to its high debt burden and the low price of oil, Petrobras was also forced to cut capital expenditures and announced it would sell $13.7 billion in assets over the following two years.[20]

Domestic politics[edit]

On 8 March 2016, Marcelo Odebrecht, CEO of Odebrecht and grandson of the company's founder, was sentenced to 19 years in prison after being convicted of paying more than $30 million in bribes to Petrobras executives.[25][26]

Mid April 2018 former president Luíz Inácio Lula da Silva – after having been condemned for passive corruption and money laundering in relation to a luxury apartment in Guarujá received from OAS construction Company – entered prison in Curitiba to serve the sentence of 12 years and one month of imprisonment.

On 3 July 2018, failed Brazilian billionaire Eike Batista was convicted of bribing disgraced former Rio de Janeiro governor Sergio Cabral for state government contracts, having paid Cabral USD $16.6 million, and was sentenced to 30 year imprisonment.[27]

Political parties[edit]

Lula and the PT[edit]

Emílio Odebrecht said in a written report to the Attorney General of Brazil's Office (PGR) that he discussed with PT former President Lula donations for PT campaigns. Financial support, according to the contractor, came even before he became president.[28][29] Marcelo Odebrecht said that the "Amigo" account, which contained the resources to be used by former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, was created in 2010 with a balance of R$ 40 million. According to his statement, he gave the money to Antonio Palocci, former Finance Minister and Rousseff chief of staff, who had been the PT contact with Odebrecht since the prior administration, when Emílio Odebrecht and Pedro Novis, had handled payments, he said that in the middle of 2010, at the end of the Lula administration, he knew that Dilma Rousseff was going to take over and that the balance of the account would be "managed by her at her request". Thus, he separated a sum that would be destined exclusively to for ex-president, he said that Lula never asked directly and that everything was done through Palocci, but it became clear that it was really for the former president.[30][31]

On 4 March 2016, former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was detained and questioned for three hours as part of a fraud inquiry into the dealings of Petrobras, his house raided by federal police agents he was brought in for questioning. Lula, who left office in 2011, denied allegations of corruption. Police said they had evidence that Lula, 70, had received kickbacks. Lula's institute called actions against him "arbitrary, illegal and unjustifiable", since he had been co-operating with the investigations.[32] Lula, convicted of accepting bribes worth 3.7 million reais (1.2 million dollars), was sentenced on 12 July to nine and a half years in prison,[33] he has appealed to the Federal Regional Court-4, that increased his sentence to twelve years and a month.[34] On 5 April 2018 Moro ordered his prison, he eventually surrendered two days later.[35]

Temer and the PMDB[edit]

The plea bargain testimony by Odebrecht Engenharia Industrial's former president Márcio Faria da Silva pointed out that on 15 July 2010, President Michel Temer led a meeting that served to sign an agreement that provided for the payment of approximately US$ 40 million of bribes to the PMDB in exchange for contracts with the International Board of Directors of Petrobras. According to Faria, Temer, who at the time was a candidate for vice-president on Dilma Rousseff's ticket, delegated to Eduardo Cunha and Henrique Eduardo Alves, then deputies and present at the meeting, the task of making the payments, which represented 5% of the contract value; the meeting took place in Temer's political office in São Paulo. He did not discuss any details about the financial agreement, limiting himself to trivial conversations about politics.[36][37]

Aécio and the PSDB[edit]

Marcelo Odebrecht said in his plea bargain testimony that the group led by Senator Aécio Neves (PSDB-MG) received at least 50 million reais in exchange for favoring the business contractor in energy deals, he said that improper payments were made due to business deals with two state companies: Furnas and Cemig. The first investigation, federal, was under the leadership of Dimas Toledo, an ally of Neves, in the early years of the Lula administration (2003–2005); the second, state-run state government, was influenced by Aécio during the period when the PSDB ruled Minas Gerais (2003–2014).[38][39]

Political families[edit]

Odebrecht created discussions about the family situation of politicians. In eleven cases under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Federal Court (STF) investigations unite father and son, husband and wife or siblings; the president of the Chamber, Rodrigo Maia (DEM-RJ), has the most family members implicated. He was charged in the same investigation as his father, councilor and former mayor Cesar Maia. According to the Odebrecht testimony, Rodrigo obtained cash resources both for his father's campaign and also for himself; the PMDB leader of the Senate, Renan Calheiros (AL), was charged along with his son, the governor of Alagoas Renan Filho (PMDB), in two inquiries. They allegedly participated in an agreement to divert resources from the work of the Canal do Sertão and still received resources in the form of box two. In the case of the father, there are still two other inquiries ongoing.

The governor of Rio Grande do Norte, Robinson Faria (PSD), was charged along with his son, federal deputy Fábio Faria [pt] (PSD-RN). The two would have received donations through box two as a counterpart to defend Odebrecht Ambiental's interests in the area of basic sanitation in the state; the president of the PMDB, Senator Romero Jucá (RR), has his son, Rodrigo Jucá, as company in one of the inquiries. The father helped Odebrecht negotiate a Provisional Measure and obtained an electoral donation of 150,000 reais for his son. Romero Jucá was also charged in four other inquiries. A father asking for a contribution for a son was also why former minister José Dirceu was investigated along with Zeca Dirceu [pt], federal deputy. The father was able to raise the money for Zeca in exchange for the acting for of Odebrecht interests in the government.

In the Chamber of Deputies, the sons Antônio Britto (PSD-BA) and Daniel Vilela [pt] (PMDB-GO) were also investigated along with their parents, Edvaldo Brito [pt] (PTB-BA) and Maguito Vilela (PMDB-GO). Senator Kátia Abreu (PMDB-TO) was accompanied by her husband Moisés Pinto Gomes, who brokered cash payments for her in 2014. Senator Vanessa Grazziotin (PCdoB-AM) is accompanied by her husband Eron Bezerra, who was said to have asked for box 2 cash donations for her. Federal Deputy Décio Nery de Lima [pt] (PT-SC) also requested box 2 for the municipal campaign Blumenau in 2012 of his wife and state deputy Ana Paula Lima (PT-SC). The Viana brothers of Acre were not left out. Governor Tião Viana (PT) and Senator Jorge Viana (PT) were also charged together. Jorge asked and Odebrecht paid R$ 1.5 million in cash two for Tião's campaign in 2010.[40][41]

Payments to Brazilian senators[edit]

The names of the senators cited in the report were:

Payments to federal deputies[edit]

The names of the federal deputies cited in the Odebrecht statement were:

Other Brazilian public figures[edit]

The names include politicians and former public officials also mentioned in the statement:

  • Eduardo Paes (PMDB) – Former mayor of Rio de Janeiro
  • César Maia (DEM) – Former governor of Rio de Janeiro
  • Rosalba Ciarlini Rosado (PP) – former mayor of Mossoró, governor of Rio Grande do Norte.
  • Guido Mantega – Former Finance Minister under Lula and Dilma
  • José Dirceu – Former Lula minister
  • Napoleão Bernardes [pt] – Prefect of Blumenau for the PSDB
  • Cândido Vaccarezza – Former deputy (PT)
  • Paulo Bernardo – Former Minister of Communication
  • Luiz Alberto Maguito Vilela – Former senator and mayor (PMDB)
  • Humberto Kasper – Former director of Trensurb, in Rio Grande do Sul
  • Marco Arildo Prates da Cunha – Former director of Trensurb
  • Ana Paula Lima – Member (SC-PT)
  • Rodrigo Jucá – Son of Senator Romero Jucá (PMDB-AL)
  • Oswaldo Borges da Costa – Businessman linked to Aécio Neves
  • Vital do Rêgo Filho – minister of the Federal Audit Court
  • Eron Bezerra (PC do B) – Former state deputy for Amazonas
  • Ulisses César Martins de Sousa – Lawyer and former attorney general of the State of the Sao Paulo
  • Valdemar Costa Neto (PR) – Former federal deputy for São Paulo
  • Edvaldo Pereira de Brito – Former mayor of Salvador, linked to Deputy Antonio de Brito
  • José Ivaldo Gomes
  • Vado da Farmárcia – Former Mayor of Cabo de Santo Agostinho PE[43]
  • João Carlos Gonçalves Ribeiro – Former secretary of planning for the state of Rondônia[44]
  • José Feliciano de Barros Júnior.[45]

Dilma Rousseff's 2014 presidential campaign[edit]

Marcelo Odebrecht detailed the payment of 100 million reais for the 2014 presidential campaign of Dilma, requested by then-minister Guido Mantega;[46] the payment was allegedly tied to the approval of Provisional Measure 613, which assisted Braskem, an arm of Odebrecht, and dealt with the Special Chemical Industry Regime (Reiq), with fiscal incentives for ethanol and the chemical industry. The former executive said that this was not a direct exchange of favors as was, he says, the negotiation of the 50 million reais passed on to the government for the creation of Crisis Refis to solve the crisis caused by zero Imposto sobre Produtos Industrializados (Industrialized Products Tax)[47](IPI), but that the then-minister knew that he was talking to someone who had given money to João Santana [pt]. The former executive said he often met Mantega and they both brought their lawsuits to meetings. According to him, the former minister had already asked the executive to "resolve issues" pending with publicist João Santana and the then-treasurer of the PT, João Vaccari [pt]. The advertiser always feared political campaigns because of the risk of getting into debt at the end. That's why he made advance payment on the account, to make it quiet.[48]

Former Odebrecht Institutional Relations Director Alexandrino Alencar stated that former minister Edinho Silva [pt], when he became treasurer of Dilma Rousseff's campaign in 2014, asked for cash 2 donations from five parties to support the Force of the People plate, valued at 7 million reais each.[49] The PCdoB, PDT, PRB, PROS and PP received the illegal donations, according to the former director of Odebrecht. Together, these parties gave three minutes and twenty seconds of television time to the presidential ticket. In return, said the former director, the contractor hoped to obtain quid pro quos from the elected government; the informant detailed meetings with the politicians in his office and cash deliveries, always made in kind by messengers in hotels or flats. Marcelo Odebrecht said he met with Silva a few times to handle the money for the parties that would join the coalition in 2014; the former Dilma minister allegedly instructed Alencar to directly seek party leaders to pass on the values. He clarified that the interest of the PT was the increase of the time of electoral time in the television, being in a total of eleven minutes and twenty-four seconds, being a third of that time coming from the parties purchased.[50]

Repercussions outside Brazil[edit]

Paradise Papers[edit]

On 5 November 2017, the Paradise Papers, a set of confidential electronic documents relating to offshore investment, revealed that Odebrecht used at least one offshore company as a vehicle for the payment of bribes discovered in the Operation Car Wash investigation. Marcelo Odebrecht, his father Emílio Odebrecht and his brother Maurício Odebrecht are all mentioned in the Paradise Papers.[51]


During the governments of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Néstor Kirchner, Odebrecht was awarded overvalued contracts for at least USD 9.6 billion.[52]


In Mexico, the former director of the state-owned oil company Pemex, a close ally of President Peña Nieto, is suspected of receiving US$10 million in bribes from Odebrecht.[53]


Ramón Fonseca Mora, president of Panama's Panameñista Party, was dismissed in March 2016 due to his involvement in the scandal.[54]


During the Peruvian presidential election in February 2016, a report by the Brazilian Federal Police implicated Peruvian president Ollanta Humala in bribery by Odebrecht for public works contracts. President Humala denied the charge and has avoided questions from the media on that matter.[55][56] In July 2017, Humala and his wife were arrested and held in pre-trial detention following investigations into his involvement in the Odebrecht scandal.[57][58] Investigations revealed that Brazilian president Lula da Silva pressured Odebrecht to pay millions of dollars toward Humala's presidential campaign.[59]

In December 2017 Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski appeared before Congress to defend himself against impeachment over allegations of covering up illegal payments of $782,000 from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht to Kuczynski's company Westfield Group Capital Ltd. Keiko Fujimori, who lost the 2016 presidential elections by a margin of fewer than 50,000 votes, is championing the motion; her party has already forced out five government ministers. Fujimori is herself implicated in the Odebrecht scandal over alleged campaign contributions.[60]

Kuczynski resigned the Presidency on 21 March 2018.[61] On 17 April 2019, Alan García, former President of Peru, who was also implicated in the scandal, died by suicide from shooting himself in the head while police attempted to arrest him.[62]


In late 2017, Euzenando Prazeres de Azevedo, president of Constructora Odebrecht in Venezuela, told investigators that Odebrecht had made $35 million in campaign contributions to Nicolas Maduro's 2013 presidential campaign in return for Odebrecht projects receiving priority in Venezuela,[63] that Americo Mata, Maduro's campaign manager, initially asked for $50 million for Maduro, settled in the end for $35 million.[63][64] In May 2018, Transparency International showed that only 9 of 33 projects started by Odebrecht between 1999 and 2013 were completed in Venezuela.[65]

Abuse of investigations[edit]

In June 2019 the investigative magazine The Intercept reported, that the anticorruption prosecutors in charge and the judge Sérgio Moro conspired to prevent Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's candidature at the presidential election 2018.[66][67][68][69][70][71][72]


There are two dramatizations of Operation Car Wash. One is the 2017 film Polícia Federal: A Lei É para Todos (Federal Police: The Law Is for Everyone), directed by Marcelo Antunez (2017), and the other is the Netflix series The Mechanism.

See also[edit]


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