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BrazilLatin America

Brazil’s Attorney General Unloads ‘One Last Cannon Barrage’ Before His Term Ends

Call it the ultimate mike drop.

Just days before his four-year term ends, Brazil’s attorney general, Rodrigo Janot, filed criminal charges accusing two former presidents of running the state like a criminal enterprise. With these charges, taken together with the corruption charges he has pursued against the current president, Michel Temer, Mr. Janot appears keen to leave his post having condemned the entire political establishment that has run the country over the past 15 years.

On Tuesday, in a surprise move, Mr. Janot, Brazil’s top prosecutor, accused former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva; his handpicked successor, Dilma Rousseff; and six other Workers’ Party stalwarts of running a huge kickback scheme during their nearly 14 years in power.

Ms. Rousseff, who was impeached and ousted in August 2016 for breaking budgetary laws, has maintained that she was a fundamentally honest public servant who fell victim to a legislative “coup” by conniving rivals, including Mr. Temer. Mr. Janot is challenging that narrative, asserting that his office has enough evidence to demonstrate that she was more than a bystander in a multibillion pay-to-play scheme that drained the government’s treasury while enriching scores of businessmen and politicians.

In June, Mr. Janot took a swing at Mr. Temer, accusing him of condoning payment of a bribe to keep an imprisoned politician from cooperating with prosecutors.

“For Janot and his team, who see themselves as soldiers in a long fight to build the rule of law in Brazil, this is like unloading one last cannon barrage on their way off the battlefield,” said Brian Winter, vice president for policy at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas.

Mr. Temer has so far avoided standing trial thanks to his considerable base of support in the lower house of Congress, which must refer criminal cases against serving elected officials to the Supreme Court. In the case of Mr. da Silva and Ms. Rousseff, who no longer enjoy that protection, the Supreme Court must now decide whether to accept the charges and proceed with a trial.

Mr. Janot is leaving his successor with a daunting set of politically explosive cases just as the campaign to elect a new president next year gets underway. Yet the departing attorney general, who was appointed by Ms. Rousseff in 2013, was reported to be feeling more anxious than cocky as he planned his final moves.

“I’m not at all courageous. What I am is afraid, and fear makes us alert,” he told colleagues during a recent meeting, according to the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo. “Afraid of what? Of making big mistakes and of disappointing the institutions.”

Regardless of how the cases unfold, Mr. Janot and other prominent legal officials have set in motion a debate about the structural problems that have made cronyism and corruption routine in Brazil. In recent months, a Supreme Court justice, Luís Roberto Barroso, also a Rousseff appointee, has been advocating sweeping political reforms. These include measures to make political campaigns cheaper and elected officials more responsive to their constituents than to their parties.

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NEW YORK TIMES
SHASTA DARLINGTON and ERNESTO LONDOÑO

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