Brazil’s Supreme Court sentenced former president Fernando Collor de Mello to eight years and 10 months in prison for corruption on Wednesday, part of the fallout from the country’s sweeping Car Wash graft investigation.
The high court had convicted Collor of taking 20 million reais ($4 million) in bribes as a senator from 2010 to 2014 in exchange for arranging contracts for a construction company with a subsidiary of state-run oil company Petrobras.
Collor, 73, who led Brazil from 1990 to 1992, was already a tarnished figure in Brazilian politics: the country’s first democratically elected president after the 1964-1985 military dictatorship, he resigned from that office to avoid impeachment, also over corruption allegations.
Earlier this month, Supreme Court’s justices had found him guilty of corruption and money laundering in the Petrobas case in an eight-to-two ruling.
The lead judge on the case, Edson Fachin, had recommended a sentence of 33 years.
The facts in the trial are “extremely serious” and “portray the nefarious misuse of public functions for personal and patrimonial promotion,” Fachin said on Wednesday.
In his vote, Fachin said “the then-senator used his political-partisan influence to promote appointments to the board of directors” of Petrobas subsidiary Distribuidora “and create facilities for the establishment of contracts,” according to the court’s official website.
The money laundering was carried out through more than 40 deposits in accounts in Collor’s name, and in 65 accounts of companies owned by him.
His defense denies the accusations.
– Fall from grace –
Collor’s political star shone bright during his triumph in the 1989 elections at just 40 years old, against Brazil’s current president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
With a nonconformist, jovial image, Collor was elected as a social and political reformer who promised to crack down on absenteeism by high-salaried public officials.
A former national karate champion, he capitalized on his image as a successful athlete.
But within two years in power, thousands were taking to the streets to demand his departure, and Congress opened impeachment proceedings following allegations of corruption.
The Car Wash investigation had also led to a bribery conviction against Lula, preventing him from standing in the 2018 election and sending him to jail for a year and a half.
But Lula’s conviction was later thrown out, paving the way for the leftist leader to run in and win last year’s presidential contest.
The taskforce behind the wide-ranging investigation, which looked into cases of bribery between Petrobras and Brazil’s political elite, was started in 2014, and officially disbanded in 2021.