At risk: the world of politician/cattle breeder Jorge Picciani– and ours, too

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Is there light at the end of the tunnel? It depends on the state Attorney General’s office

[Update, 4-6-2016: according to an article in today’s Globo, the state Attorney General’s office has opened an inquiry in response to reports published in the paper in the last several days: 

“Public prosecutor Rubem Vianna, head of the Attorney General office’s tax evasion department, announced  there will be an investigative procedure:
‘The journalistic work reveals that very serious events occurred, which merit swift action on the part of this office, to determine the criminal responsibility of the tax inspectors who used their posts as public servants to practice acts prejudicial to taxpayers.’
Yesterday, State Attorney General Marfan Martins Vieira’s office said that he will await the Upper Council’s April decision regarding closing or continuing an investigative procedure to look into animal sales involving Jorge Picciani, before taking a decision to investigate alleged crimes attributed to people with judicial privileges.”

Two inspectors now under suspicion also left their posts]

Today’s Globo published the third of a series of reports on what could be a business network full of conflicts of interest, created by state representative Jorge Picciani, president of the State Legislature and father of two sons in key posts at the city and federal levels.

[Clique aqui para português]

[Click here to read yesterday’s post, summing up the series’ first two reports]

Information about the network comes at a time of multiple distractions for Brazilians, focused as they are on making a living (and staying alive, for those who live in a growing number of areas of conflict in the metro region), on the Lava-Jato investigations, President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment proceedings, the “Panama Papers” and so many other topics.

In Rio today, we had a gas explosion in the North Zone that killed five and injured twelve people.

Even in this tumultuous context, the importance of these reports cannot be underestimated. If the state Attorney General takes on the inherent accusations, carries out an investigation and sends indictments to the Judiciary– and if the courts conclude that Picciani did in fact engage in criminal acts together with tax inspectors and state contractors — a great deal could change in Rio de Janeiro.

We’ve never had so much information pointing in this direction.

Today’s report reveals that tax inspectors are not the only people who have made suspect visits to the offices of Picciani’s cattle business in Barra. The 2014-2015 leaked visitor list also includes executives from construction companies involved in the Lava-Jato corruption scandal, at work on huge state projects: Andrade Gutierrez, Carioca Engenharia and OAS.

The three, according to the newspaper, donated R$ 1,8 million to election campaigns of the Picciani family; and R$ 8 million to the state offices of Picciani’s party, the PMDB.

If it were solely up to institutions and their constitutional roles, the Globo reports would signal a light at the end of the tunnel of Rio’s troubled state finances. Except that, according to the paper, Rio state Attorney General Marfan Martins Vieira not long ago closed an “investigation into the sale of animals belonging to Jorge Picciani”:

“The state Attorney General’s office did investigate suspected illegal gain on the part of Picciani related to rural business dealings. A public civil investigation begun on June 26 2013, when he was not in office, began to look into animal sales that may have served to mask personal gain from public funds. But with Picciani’s return to the State Assembly and his election to its presidency, the case was taken over by state Attorney General Marfan Martins Vieira, and closed.

The investigation began with a contract to manage Detran vehicle inspection stations by way of a March 10 memorandum of understanding with Funcefet, the Cefet Support Foundation. This agency, in turn, subcontracted the DKF Engenharia company belonging to businessman Sérgio Shcolnik, who received about R$ 480,000 a month for the service. According to the Attorney General’s office,the company received a total of almost R$ 8.7 million. However, an inspection carried out by the state Accounts Court (TCE) found that the firm never delivered the service. During the second “Ópera & Bilara” auction (10-25-2004), Shcolnik paid Picciani R$ 511,000 for the fruit of a cross between the cow Bonanza with an undetermined bull.”

Marfan Vieira has another question in his hands, relating to a corruption scandal at the state police health fund and Picciani (who enjoys judicial privileges, as a legislator), closed to public access.

Fortunately, the shelved inquiry regarding the Detran stations, dating to 2013, must still come under consideration by the state Attorney General office’s Upper Council. Perhaps the Council will now hasten its pace on the proceedings.

Also, says Chico Otávio, one of the reporters responsible for the series, the Federal Attorney General’s office may decide to open its own inquiry, since there are indications of, at very least, overlap between Picciani’s alleged network and the Lava-Jato one.

The Civil Police’s Finance Investigations Office, according to O Globo, is set to investigate the tax inspectors’ visits to Picciani’s Agrobilara offices. In today’s paper, Picciani says he doubts the veracity of the visitor list leaked to the reporters by an unknown source. The journalists say they took the precaution of checking the listed visits with the visitors themselves.

Ultimately, if we want a state with enough revenue to provide adequate schools, health system, public safety and sanitation, among many other public services– it’s up to society to pressure for official investigations of the information published in Globo.

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About Rio real

American journalist, writer, editor who's lived in Rio de Janeiro for 20 years.
This entry was posted in Brazil, Transformation of Rio de Janeiro / Transformação do Rio de Janeiro and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to At risk: the world of politician/cattle breeder Jorge Picciani– and ours, too

  1. shotw2arrows says:

    Good report, Julia. Just another piece of evidence that the very cornerstone of the governance of Brazil is corruption. The cornerstone is being shaken and the house is falling down. Let the investigations continue. Reports like this show how the bribery process works.

    So we know the patient is ill and some of the etiology of the disease. We need to think about preventing future infections. We can’t always rely on leaks. We can’t rely on the elite having a change of heart. Could we come up with a change, in the processing of contracts perhaps, to make it very difficult for this specific type of abuse to occur? (I speak hypothetically, of course; Picciani has not been proven guilty and must have his day in court.)

    People want an immediate fix and feel that going on the street to demonstrate will cure everything. Going onto the streets and making noise will be necessary. But a new cornerstone must be fashioned. It’s just like the streets of Rio flood every time there’s a heavy rain. People should complain, otherwise nothing will be done. Then someone has to work on re-designing the drainage system. They have to discuss, think, plan, then put their plan into action. I am now going to re-read the article and give you my thoughts about this specific case, poor as they may be.

  2. shotw2arrows says:

    If the charges prove to be true, here’s how it works: Picciani is a powerful government official but also owns a business. Shcolnik owns a business that does work for the government, but Shcolnik also owns other businesses.

    Picciani arranges for the government to pay Shcolnik an excessive fee for performing a government service. (In this case Shcolnik did not even bother to perform the service.)
    Then a contract is arranged. The business belonging to Picciani performs a service for the business of Shcolnik. Shcolnik pays Picciani an enormous amount for the service.

    In effect Picciani steals money from the public and gives it to Shcolnik. Shcolnik pays Picciani back by asking Picciani to perform some service for Shcolnik and then paying him an enormous, unwarranted fee for the service.

    It is exactly as if Picciani had stolen some cash from the public coffers and given it to Shcolnik. Shcolnik then hands back some of the cash to Picciani. The public has lost some money while Shcolnik and Picciani have gained some money.

    How could this sort of thing be prevented? It seems to me that when a powerful politician also owns businesses this should run up a red flag. Perhaps before a politician takes office he should turn over his enterprises over to a receivership for the duration of his public service. I believe when Romney ran for president of the US he temporarily divested his vast holdings to a disinterested legal entity. I don’t know what the laws are in either the US or Brazil.

    But certainly there should be placed into law the strict audit of the businesses that politicians own while in office. An individual running for office must accept that his personal finances are going to be under public scrutiny. The personal finances of every elected official should be a matter of public record.

    You can bribe an inspector. You can bribe a journalist or even a network of journalists. But you can’t bribe EVERY journalist or blogger any more than you can bribe every man, woman, and child in Brazil.

    • Rio real says:

      You have described what may have happened, and I should have done this in my post. There is also the sale of cattle involved, which may mask some illegal payments…

  3. shotw2arrows says:

    The worse thing that officials could do would be to simply dismiss Picciani from his position, at the same time dropping all charges. This happened countless times during the administrations of Lula and Dilma. It certainly occurred in the Cardoso years and probably throughout the last five centuries.

    An example: Michel Temer is the Vice-President and will replace Dilma if she is impeached. Temer was also head of the PMDB, until yesterday, when Romero Jucá replaced him. I did a little research on Jucá, and found this in Wikipedia:

    Entre março e julho de 2005, Romero Jucá foi ministro da Previdência Social, mas, por conduta suspeita de corrupção, com empréstimos bancários irregulares, foi exonerado poucos dias depois. Em 2006, Romero foi escolhido líder do governo do presidente Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, cargo que também ocupou na gestão da presidente Dilma Rousseff [até] março de 2012…

    Which I translate:

    Between March and July 2005, Romero Jucá was Minister of Social Security, but for suspicion of corruption, with irregular bank loans, was discharged a few days later. In 2006, Romero was chosen leader of the government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a position he also held in the administration of President Dilma Rousseff [until] March, 2012…

    A guy can be accused of something, dismissed for it without going to trial, and a year late be picked for an important office. This has to stop. If someone is accused, he must be prosecuted.

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