The first piece translated & published in partnership with Outras Palavras explores the disturbing circumstances around the plane crash which killed 5 people, including the Supreme Court’s rapporteur to anti-corruption operation Lava Jato (Car Wash), Judge Teori Zavascki.
A tracked aircraft, a busy hangar, eyewitness reports, a controversial rescue and threats. Facts flood the internet, but old media abandons hypothesis of sabotage. Versão Original em Português.
By Cauê S. Ameni , Hugo Albuquerque and André Takahashi
Conspiracy theory or justified mistrust? After the crash of the plane that resulted in the death of Federal Supreme Court (STF) Minister Teori Zavascki, businessman Carlos Alberto Fernandes Filgueiras, and three other people, there was immediate debate about what happened. Teori was the rapporteur for the Lava Jato trial at the Supreme Court and was about to withdraw the secrecy of about 900 testimonies and endorse the 77 Odebrecht complaints. The most relevant collaboration agreement in the country’s legal history, involving the biggest names across various parties. There are those who prefer to see this a tragic coincidence, but do those who distrust such a version have no reason to do so?
In the last 50 years, Brazil, the “country of cordiality”, has a history of strange accidents that have directly impacted the course of national politics: In the air, Marshal Humberto Castelo Branco, three months after leaving the presidency through his dislike of Costa Silva – linked to the hardest wing of the regime – the victim died in a strange air accident on 18 July 1967; On land, former president Juscelino Kubitschek, is suspected of having been assassinated in a car accident on 22 August 1976, according to the latest report of the Truth Commission.
We also should not forget the former deputy and presidential candidate Ulysses Guimarães in 1992, the then agrarian reform minister Marcos Freire in 1987, former president of Vale Mining Corporation and former board member of Petrobrás, Roger Agnelli, and former governor of Pernambuco & candidate in the last presidential elections Eduardo Campos (Paulo César Morato, businessman and owner of the plane on which Campos died, was himself found dead from poisoning in a motel on June 22, 2016).
The death of Teori is yet another chapter in this strange history.
The Public Prosecutor and Federal Police opened an investigation to determine the cause of the crash. The guiding question for the investigation is: under what circumstances the C90GT King Air twin-engine, manufactured by US-based Hawker Beechcraft, with an up-to-date inspection by Anac, piloted by Osmar Rodrigues, the “most experienced” on the São Paulo-Paraty route, crashed into the sea? It took with it Lava Jato’s rapporteur and minister appointed to the Supreme Court by former President Dilma Rousseff, soon after accusations had reached the hard core of the current post-impeachment government, explicitly citing $2 million in cash for São Paulo Governor Alckmin, $23 million in Switzerland for Foreign Minister Serra, and $10 million for President Michel Temer himself.
While no concrete evidence has emerged, hegemonic media dismisses the hypothesis of political assassination, as it dismissed the narratives of the coup in 1964 and 2016. It treats the subject as if the possibility can not be discussed, while the pieces of the puzzle sink into the sea.
Without paranoia, but pursuing the journalistic practice of gathering facts and being skeptical of official versions – especially in situations of national interest – we collect the curious elements, scattered around the net, to assemble this puzzle.
1) “It looked like the smoke squadron”
According to the eyewitness report of sailor Célio de Araújo, eyewitness to the accident that brought firefighters to the rescue: “The rain was still light. It wasn’t windy. I think it was a problem in the left engine. He must have turned off the left engine, and he only had one engine when he struck the ground with the wing.” So the plane may not have fallen because of pilot disorientation and bad weather – the same allegation used in the official report of Eduardo Campos, according to the Center for Research and Prevention of Aeronautical Accidents (Cenipa)?
2) Aircraft was ‘followed’ online, 16 days ago?
The journalist Chico Malfitani published a photo, from data that was passed on to them by USP engineer Leonardo Manzione, which shows the technical database entry of the Beechcraft airplane accessed 1,885 times 16 days ago (January 3, 2017) – 3.7 times more than the total of all previous views since 2005. The site is owned by Fredrik Lindahl, CEO of Flightradar24 AB | MBA, and is hosted in the USA, where you can identify the IP addresses of those accessing the database, according to journalist Marcelo Auler. Who made these queries and why so much curiosity in the database entry of this twin engine with the registration PR-SOM LJ-1809?
3) Busy hangar?
According to a Folha de S. Paulo report: “The hours after the plane crash were very busy in the hangar at Campo de Marte airstrip, where the twin-engine King Air was stored and where the passengers of the flight had embarked. Around 7 pm, an employee arrived at the TAG hangar. He said he was responsible for security cameras at the site and began collecting computers from the hangar. Minutes later, members of the Air-Force and Federal Police arrived, also in search of the images from the hangar’s CCTV.
4) A strange rescue
Blogger and journalist André Barcinski, who was on a trip to Paraty, transcribed some conversations he had with witnesses to the tragedy: “She was alive well after the accident […] I could see the woman calling for help inside the plane,” said fisherman Wallace, 23 years old. The journalist suspected this version, until it was corroborated by an official: “She was alive in the plane for at least 40 minutes.”
The reports became increasingly macabre. According to sailor Ademilson de Alcantara Mariano, an officer saw a hand knocking on the glass and shouted: “Quick! There’s someone alive here! “ Mariano continues: “I could see someone’s hand beating in the glass. Then we heard the screams, it was a woman’s voice: ‘For God’s sake, get me out of here, I can not take it anymore!’ It would be Hilda Penas Helatczuk, or her daughter Maira Panas. However, the officer present did not have adequate instruments to open the aircraft, so the survivor fell silent after more than 40 minutes struggling following the crash.
Barcinski makes it clear that the wreckage had been hoisted twice. The first time, during the attempt to rescue the passenger, and the second, by two fishing boats, interrupted by orders from the Air Force, claiming it was to preserve the site for the experts.
Finally, the Brazilian Air Force (FAB) gave up taking the plane out of the sea, claiming difficulties, and handed over responsibility to the owner of the aircraft, the hotel group Emiliano, who will hire a specialized company. Meanwhile the location of the accident went a significant period of time without any surveillance from the authorities, as witnessed by the journalists of Estadão.
5) With or without black box?
In a report published in Veja at 3:32 pm, the King Air C90GT had no black box, as the model of the aircraft had no obligation to carry one, according to information from the FAB. At 16:28, the version was changed and the plane was now said to have a “voice recorder” equivalent to a black box. “The Air Force research team located the voice recorder (CVR) of the PR-SOM aircraft, crashed in Paraty on Friday,” the FAB confirmed in a statement. Later the black box was reported to be unusable, as it had “come into contact with water”.
6) Connections with BTG Pactual?
Alceu Castilho, a journalist, reported that one of Filgueiras’ companies, Forte Mar Empreendimentos e Participação, had 90% of its capital in an investment fund at BTG Pactual, Brazil’s leading private investment bank. BTG’s former president, André Esteves, was arrested by Lava Jato on November 25, 2015 on suspicion of attempting to obstruct the operation.
Teori revoked Esteves’ pre-trial detention in December. And in April 2016, he freed the banker. Teori also withdrew an inquiry into BTG’s liaison with former deputy and head of Congress, Eduardo Cunha. In the plea bargain of former senator Delcídio do Amaral, approved on March 15, 2016 by Teori, the senator said that Eduardo Cunha “functioned as a message boy for André Esteves, especially when the subject was related to interests of Banco BTG.”
BTG Pactual is related to the area of Petrobras operations least affected by Lava Jato and the most profitable – exploration and Production, which operates leased platforms and ships. The latter, a highly profitable market, monopolised worldwide by companies such as Texas-based Halliburton, which was once headed by former US Vice President Dick Cheney. Esteves bank was planning to drill through this seaborne leasing cartel through the creation of Sete Brasil with state pension funds (Funcef, Previ, Petros) and a little capital from Bradesco and Santander. The new company will contract shipyards for the construction of 29 vessels, the largest order in the world.
It is curious to note that another recent victim of an air crash, former Vale president Roger Agnelli also had business with BTG Pactual: in 2012 he created a mining company with the bank worth 500 million reais to operate in Brazil, Chile And Africa, competing with international mining companies. This, just over a year after leaving Vale’s presidency under pressure from the federal government, which, among other differences, did not support its initiative to build ships for Vale in foreign shipyards.
7) Threats from Lava Jato
Last year, Teori’s son, Francisco Prehn Zavascki, unleashed on his Facebook page the threats that the family had been suffering . On Friday, he told Rádio Estadão that “we can not rule out any possibility. In my heart, I pray that it was an accident, it would be very bad for the country to have a Minister of the Supreme Court assassinated.” At Folha he reiterated that he had been receiving threats, and that the family was very worried.
The threats are reminiscent of those against attorney Beatriz Catta Preta, one of the country’s top plea-bargain specialists, who had to abandon her clients involved in Lava Jato a week after she ceased working on behalf of Júlio Carmargo, a businessman who had delivered a long testimony in which he revealed bribes of R$5 million to Eduardo Cunha.
She said she was “under constant threat”. She told Globo that one day, she returned home to find that “Doleiro” (Money Changer) Lúcio Funaro (who had been asking Eduardo Cunha not to participate in the plea-bargaining) was already there, playing with her children. Funaro is also a Lava Jato defendant and is accused by the MPF of threatening to kill the former vice president of Caixa Bank, Fabio Cleto, for his plea-bargain, an accusation highlighted by Teori in the dispatch in which he decreed preventive custody of the Funaro.
8) New witnesses in the case of Eduardo Campos?
On the same fateful night of Thursday, the brother of former governor Eduardo Campos (PSB), lawyer Antonio Campos, announced that he had a new witness who could completely change the direction of the investigations into the plane crash that resulted in the death of the his brother. And he said: “In a country where leaders and authorities die mysteriously in air crashes and still shocked by the death of Minister Teori, I decided to reveal this new fact and reaffirm that the case of Eduardo Campos needs to be more deeply investigated, and is another case that can not go unpunished. I will not rest until the facts are clear, irrespective of any risks to myself. “
The late governor Eduardo Campos himself came to be cited in Lava Jato, regarding the construction of the Abreu and Lima refinery, having been connected to the operators who brokered the deal for the executive jet in which the then presidential candidate died.
9) The Jucá Recording
In an already well circulated audio recording, senator, ex-minister of the Temer government and president of the PMDB, Romero Jucá, who is today one of the main articulators of the Temer government, talks about the real reasons behind the moves to overthrow the then president Dilma Rousseff with Sérgio Machado. They talk in detail about the late Minister Teori:
“One way is to find someone who has a connection with Teori [Zavascki, Lava Jato rapporteur], but it seems that there is no one” [Machado].
“There is not. He’s a reserved person, it was her [Dilma] who put him there, a guy … Bureaucrat of the … Former Minister of the STJ [Superior Court of Justice]”[Jucá].
The opinion of Jucá and Machado, who ironically had his plea-bargain approved by Teori, is nothing special, personal or particularly suspicious, on the contrary: it illustrates what many politicians thought at the time of the minister, that is, a threat precisely because he did not have the kind of political ties that, in this case, would serve to relax their decisions regarding Lava Jato.
He concludes the conversation by pointing to a way out: “[The solution] has to be Political. How Political? We have to solve this shit.” In the audio, Jucá and Machado ignore or do not place importance on any business ties to Teori.
10) Cui bono ?
The basic question of any criminal investigation was coined by Marco Túlio Cicero in Rome: “Cui Bono?” – literally translated as “who benefits?”. This name was given to the last phase of Lava Jato which investigated suspected fraud in the release of funds from the Federal Savings Bank, Caixa. The principal targets were Geddel Vieira Lima, former minister in the Temer government, and the pioneer of impeachment, Eduardo Cunha – it originated from operation Catilinárias, which was aimed at the PMDB inner circle.
Teori may not have been murdered, as was Giovanni Falcone, principal judge in Italy’s Operation Clean Hands – the operation on which Lava Jato is based – but if these strange events are not completely exposed to sunlight, with explanation of every detail, suspicion that of a political assassination is bound to grow.
While the hegemonic media is preoccupied with speculation about the professional life of Teori’s girlfriend, or the life of the massage therapist hired by Filgueiras, the government of President Michel Temer, cited 43 times by the former vice president of Institutional Relations of Odebrecht in the very statement about to be approved and made public, will gain precious time until a decision is made on who will be the new rapporteur and / or the new minister, as expressly admitted by the Temer’s Chief of Staff, Eliseu Padilha.
It remains for courageous investigators, independent journalists, whistleblowers and the collective work of the Internet to decide if this is a “Coup within the Coup”, as happened in our last dictatorship, which consolidated the military regime and ended direct elections. Hegemonic media platforms likely to do little to investigate this case – in December, the government hit an all-time record in advertising spend, an increase of 106 percent, irrigating every sector with public money in the midst of a recession.
Among many suspicions, one thing is certain: several conservative sectors did not like Teori because he rebuked Sérgio Moro for unconstitutional disclosure of wiretapped conversations between Dilma and Lula. Teori also criticized the media spectacle of attorney Deltan Dallagnol, in which he represented Lula, without evidence, as the chief of an organised crime ring. Last year, a right-wing group came to decorate the facade of the Teori’s family home in Rio Grande do Sul with flags accussing him of being “PT’s defender”, “Traitor” and “Bolivarian” (a popular, paranoid trope on the Brazilian right).
If it is correct to say that there is a rush to conclude that this was deliberate, it is equally hasty to dismiss that hypothesis in the face of the hazy facts that surround it – prestigious London newspaper The Guardian, by the way, does not rule out this possibility. It is not a conspiracy “theory”, delusion or mere unfounded speculation , since there are concrete facts in the current and historical conjecture.
In a country like Brazil, where even the truth about historical episodes such as the Paraguayan War and the Military Dictatorship remain submerged, defending a rigorous investigation is the only possible skeptical attitude : not only because it is what the law orders, but because it is a first step for civil society to intervene in the process of replacing Teori, not resigning itself to the role of mere spectator, leaving Temer and 11 senators, who are themselves implicated in Lava Jato, to choose who will be their judge.
At time of publication, a Judge had recommended that the investigation into the crash take place in secrecy.