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What is Operation Car Wash?

Flavio Serafini


So what is Operation Car Wash and the Petrobras scandal? Below is a timeline of events explaining how Brazil is facing a corruption scandal that simply won’t go away.

An investigation was launched shortly after Dilma Rousseff’s re-election as President of Brazil into allegations of corruption at the state oil firm Petrobrás. This same investigation alleged that a number of Petrobrás directors took bribes from construction companies that were then used to fund the parties of the governing coalition. The problem for Dilma? She was head of Petrobrás from 2003 until 2010. Even more problematic for the governing elite – the corruption scandal allegedly took place on their watch after the discovery of potentially vast oil reserves in November 2007.

However, there has been criticism of some of the media coverage and political motivation. Most notably where an article was published which included an admission that the Petrobrás scandal dated back to the Cardoso administration alongside a note which read: “we can take this part out if you want”. In addition, this is taking place in the context of other scandals.


This came on the back of news that Petrobrás was operating at a significant loss – with gross debts of $135 billion.


Following this, the first arrests were made – a former director named Paulo Roberto Costa was arrested for alleged corruption around the same time that Dilma Rousseff was chair of Petrobrás. Dilma claimed that there was a political campaign over the Petrobrás claims, yet only days later the Brazilian Supreme Court authorised a congressional inquiry into the corruption claims.    


After reaching an agreement with the authorities, Costa named some members of parliament and other officials as being linked to the corruption allegations. The following month, in October 2014, Rousseff was re-elected as President of Brazil.

Shortly after Dilma Rousseff’s re-election the police raided Petrobras’ offices in six Brazilian states.


A number of high profile executives at Petrobras chose to resign. The company itself admitted it was unsure of how much money had been stolen during the scandal.


However, these most recent protests are smaller than the previous ones, as many see them as undemocratic and even unconstitutional. In addition, there were further counter-protests in favour of Ms Rousseff a few days prior to the impeachment demonstration.

Some have blamed the right-wing media for whipping up popular anger, including organisations such as Globo Media group, while others have pointed to inequality.

Some have also pointed to a lack of job security which some believe has been exacerbated by this crisis.

Words and collation by Greg Bianchi and Scheila Silveira.

Picture by Flavio Serafini (Flickr)

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