Brazilian Supreme Court Justice Teori Zavascki was killed just weeks before he was set to unveil “explosive testimony” implicating up to 200 Brazilian politicians in a massive corruption scandal.
Since September of last year, Brazil has been teetering on the edge of chaos following the ouster of former President Dilma Rousseff in what many spectators labeled a “coup.” Though Rousseff was ostensibly forced out of office due to allegedly doctoring government budgets, the real reason for her removal was her role in opening the largest political corruption investigation in the nation’s history. Known colloquially as the “car wash” scandal, the investigation has implicated literally hundreds of Brazilian politician and oligarchs, putting the shady dealings of the country’s most powerful people under unprecedented scrutiny. However, even Rousseff’s replacement – the unfathomably corrupt Michel Temer – was unable to halt the investigation despite his best efforts. Thanks to the work of one brave Brazilian judge in particular, Teori Zavascki of the Brazilian Supreme Court, the investigation has continued unabated; that is, until now.
Just weeks before he was set to unveil “explosive testimony” implicating hundreds of politicians in a massive kickback scandal, Zavascki met an unfortunate fate this past Thursday when a “freak accident” caused the plane in which he was traveling to crash into the sea just 80 minutes after take-off. Soon after, rescuers found three bodies in the wreckage of the small aircraft, including that of Zavascki. The plane itself belonged to the Emiliano luxury hotel group and the identities of the other two bodies uncovered in the wreckage still have yet to be identified. Though there has been no official investigation or evidence into potential “foul play” as of yet, in Zavascki’s absence the future of the “car wash” scandal remains uncertain.
Though the Supreme Court Justice’s death has been seen as a great tragedy by many Brazilians, it likely came as a sigh of relief to Temer, who has now been granted “valuable breathing space” from the corruption probe that has rocked his young presidency. Indeed, ever since Temer rose to power, Zavascki has been a thorn in his side. Temer, with less than six months in office, has already lost four of his cabinet members to the Zavascki-led probe and has even been named by one defendant as having received illegal campaign contributions. In addition, several ministers and leaders of his political party (PMDB) have also been implicated by the scandal, causing many to speculate about whether Temer’s administration would even be able to survive the investigation.
Now, with Zavascki conveniently out of the picture, the investigation will now fall to a replacement that Temer selects. Temer is most likely to nominate a judge sympathetic to his cause and his ruling party, meaning that only the Brazilian Senate – itself rife with corruption – stands in the way of the investigation’s complete subversion. As Reuters concluded, “for Brazilians dismayed by the scandals that Car Wash has uncovered, Zavascki’s death – whether an accident or not – was just the latest reason to lose faith in their institutions.”
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