US DOJ and Operation Car Wash: Facts and Questions

In 2008, US Department of Justice officials falsely prosecuted US Senator Ted Stevens for receiving illegal reforms on a vacation property. Could this have been the blueprint for Lula’s arrest?

by Brian Mier

It is no secret that American corporations have immensely benefited from Operation Car Wash, the international corruption investigation that was initiated in partnership between the US Department of Justice, the SEC, the local Public Prosecutors Office in Curitiba, Paraná, and the Brazilian Federal Police. American petroleum corporations such as ExxonMobil and Chevron are benefiting for the Michel Temer government’s systematic dismantling and privatization, at below market rates, of Petrobras and its massive offshore oil reserves, and with MP 795, a law which will give $300 billion in tax abatement to foreign companies extracting Brazilian petroleum. Boeing is now on the verge of acquiring EMBRAER, also a target of Operation Car Wash and the world’s third largest manufacturer of jets, for the below-market rate of $3.8 billion. Operation Car Wash was also used to commit character assassination against President Dilma Rousseff, who was publicly associated with the scandal in the Brazilian and international media for years, paving the way for the 2016 coup which put Michel Temer in office, before news came out that its investigators weren’t going to charge her with anything.

It is also no secret that the US Government has been working to roll back the so called “pink tide” of center left and left governments in Latin America which flourished in the oughties. As Mark Weisbrot points out in a recent interview, Hilary Clinton admits to supporting the coup government in Honduras in 2009, in her own autobiography. Operation Car Wash has transformed into a multi-country operation and has now resulted in corruption charges – many of them as frivolous as those against Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva – against 8 current or former Latin American leaders.

The US government was involved in at least 41 coups in Latin America during the 100 year period ending in 1994. In the case of many of them, for example the 1964 Coup in Brazil, it took decades for all of the information to come out. After careful analysis conducted over the past 3 years at Brasil Wire we already know enough, however, to show that there is a relationship between the US Department of Justice and Brazilian regime change through Operation Car Wash. We are confident that, as time passes, more and more information will come out on how the US contributed to an illegitimate regime which has already thrown millions below the extreme poverty line of USD $1.90/day, caused increases in infant mortality and deaths during childbirth, and transformed Brazil into a union busting, right to work country.

The following time-line is meant to further public understanding on the relationship between the US Department of Justice, the 2016 Coup and the political imprisonment of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva which, as Glen Greenwald points out, was obviously done to prevent him from running for the presidency this year, in a situation in which he is still the front runner despite being held in solitary confinement and illegally prevented from giving interviews for the past four months. This time-line represents a mixture of factual information with questions and informed speculation that is based on years of research. For the sake of clarity, the speculation and questions are in italics.

2008 – US Senator Ted Stevens loses his reelection bid after being accused of receiving illegal reforms on a vacation home. Later, after a special prosecutor is assigned to investigate prosecutorial misconduct, the charges are reversed and two DOJ officials are accused of criminal negligence. Problems with the prosecution include: relying almost entirely on plea bargain testimony from a single, unreliable witness; exaggerating about the value of the reforms; leaking misinformation to the media; and violating Brady rules (destroying, hiding or refusing to admit evidence beneficial to the defense).

Could this case have been used by the DOJ as a blueprint for the remarkably similar, frivolous investigation against Lula?

October 4-9 2009 – According to a leaked State Department cable, The US Department of Justice holds a training event with Brazilian public prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro, called “Project Bridges”. The focus of the seminar is to develop joint strategies to combat financial crimes. Judge Sergio Moro is a keynote speaker. During the event, US and Brazilian law enforcement officials discuss the possibility of initiating a joint corruption investigation, possibly headquartered in Curitiba.

All the actors are here. Could this have marked the real beginning of Operation Car Wash?

August 2, 2013 – In an act designed to strengthen the fight against corruption in Brazil, President Dilma Rousseff sanctions Law 12.850, which, for the first time in Brazilian history, enables plea bargain testimonies to be used as evidence in criminal proceedings. For the first time ever, Brazilian public prosecutors begin working with plea bargain testimonies.

Before this date, Brazilian public prosecutors had no experience building cases based on plea bargains. Due to the tactical similarities with DOJ investigations in the US – for example arresting executives and threatening them with disproportionately long prison sentences until they agree to testify against their target – one is prompted to ask whether the DOJ provided Operation Car Wash prosecutors with training on how to work with plea bargains.

September 9 2013 – Edward Snowden reveals that the US NSA has been spying on Petrobras Petroleum company.

Did the NSA share this illegally obtained information with the Operation Car Wash investigators in the US Department of Justice?

March 17, 2014 – The Brazilian Public Prosecutors Office announces a new anti-corruption investigation called “Operation Car Wash”. It is a joint operation between the US Department of Justice, FBI, SEC, a local Brazilian public prosecutors office in Curitiba and the Brazilian Federal Police. Using the Foreign Corrupt Powers Act as justification, the US DOJ-led team announces that it is targeting Petrobras petroleum company and several of Brazil’s largest companies, such as Odebrecht and Embraer. The team begins a series of leaks to the media seeking to associate Dilma Rousseff’s name with corruption in Petrobras. During the next four years, top DOJ officials make repeated visits to Curitiba.

2015 – Operation Car Wash prosecutor Sergio Moro does not merely arrest construction industry directors responsible for bribing politicians and order the companies to pay fines. In an unusual move, instead of treating them as too big to fail, he forces the nation’s 5 biggest construction companies to paralyze their projects, causing 500,000 direct job losses. Economists cited by the BBC estimate that Operation Car Wash causes a 2.5 percent drop in Brazil’s GDP in 2015, and the country is still reeling from the effects of the operation, with some economists estimating that the investigation tripled the dimensions of the Brazilian recession. As the economy nosedives, moves are made to impeach Dilma Rousseff.

Was the Brazilian economy deliberately destabilized, as the Chilean economy was in 1973, in order to deliberately pave the way for a coup?

2016 – After two years of leaks to the media implicating Dilma Rousseff with Petrobras corruption, Operation Car Wash fails to provide any proof. The damage to her image is already done, though, and she is impeached for the non-impeachable offense of “fiscal pedaling”, legalized by the Senate one week after her removal from office, in a process in which it is subsequently revealed that congressmen were bribed for their votes. The new coup government immediately begins selling off Brazil’s offshore petroleum reserves at below market rate to US petroleum companies like Exxon and Chevron and announces $300 billion in tax abatement for foreign oil companies working in Brazil.

Did US media organizations such as the New York Times deliberately work to assassinate Rousseff’s character during the lead up to the coup?

July 2017 – Flanked by Patrick Stokes and Brazilian General Prosecutor Rodrigo Janot (who is now working with US officials in Colombia), US Acting Assistant States Attorney Kenneth Blanco gives a speech about Operation Car Wash at the Atlantic Council. In it, he brags about the charges they have made against former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, saying that it puts Brazil and the US at the “forefront” of the world’s fight against corruption. During the speech he says that the investigation was made more agile by continual “direct communications” with the Brazilian Car Wash prosecution team, avoiding the bureaucratic slowdowns caused by official protocol. In Brazil it is a crime for government officials to communicate informally with foreign government officials without following protocol. As a result of this speech, Lula’s defense team files a motion for dismissal which is currently slowly moving through the court system.

What did the DOJ and Sergio Moro’s team talk about during all of these illegal communications?

April 2018 – During an election year in which he is leading all the polls for the presidency, Lula is arrested on corruption charges that he committed “indeterminate acts”, with no material evidence presented. Like Ted Stevens in 2008, the case is entirely built on a plea bargain testimony by a convicted criminal who changed his story several times in order to get sentence reduction. Like the Stevens case, Lula’s defense team accuses the prosecution of preventing them from presenting evidence beneficial to the defense. Like the Stevens case, the prosecution has leaked incorrect and misleading evidence to the media, including lying about the value of the apartment and the reforms.

Did the US Government help build a frivolous case against Lula so that he could be prevented from retaking the presidency and undoing the privatizations that are directly benefiting US industries? As in cases in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Venezuela, was petroleum the motive for US support for regime change in Brazil?


By Brian Mier

Writer, geographer and former development professional who has lived in Brazil for 26 years. Former directorate member of the Fórum Nacional de Reforma Urbana (National Urban Reform Forum). Has lived in São Luis, Recife, Salvador, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Author of “Os Megaeventos Esportivos na Cidade do Rio de Janeiro e o Direito á Cidade” (CEPR: Porto Alegre. 2016). Editor of "Voices of the Brazilian Left" (Sumare: São Paulo. 2018). Editor of "Year of Lead: Washington, Wall Street and the New Imperialism in Brazil" ((Sumare: São Paulo. 2019) Irregular correspondent for the Chicago radio show This is Hell.