Brazil Charges Appellate Judge for Involvement in Bribery Scheme

Опубликовано: 24 Май 2023

Brazil Operation Far-WestMembers of the Brazilian Superior Court of Justice convened to commence proceedings against defendants. (Photo: Rafael Luz, STJ, License)

A Brazilian appellate judge, who was the subject of a recent investigation led by OCCRP in collaboration with partners in Brazil and in the United States, is facing charges in another case related to an alleged bribery scheme in which thousands of hectares of land were registered in the name of a front man and then sold.

Maria da Graça Osório Pimentel Leal along with four others, including her niece, will face trial over a ruling she allegedly passed after receiving a hefty bribe. This ruling allowed a former tractor mechanic - who is believed to have served as a front man - to amass thousands of hectares of land in the countryside of the Brazilian state of Bahia on his name.

The appellate judge is also charged with receiving the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for another ruling that allowed José Valter Dias to divide his estate into several smaller farms.

Leaked documents shared with OCCRP revealed that Dias then sold farms in the 2010s to joint ventures controlled by the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America (TIAA) and Brazilian sugar giant Cosan.

Dias’ lawyer refuted any allegations of criminal involvement or land grabbing, stating that Dias was a prosperous businessman who expanded his family’s existing land holdings using profits from his engine repair business.

Prosecutors say Osório, helped by her niece and others, attempted to launder at least US$135,000 throughout the investigation.

The payments were made in cash to her niece, who deposited them on her account between August 14, 2013, and February 18, 2019, totaling approximately $55,000, said Brazilian Deputy Attorney Ana Borges Coelho Santos. More money from the bribe came in form of covered personal expenses, dinners and tickets for entertaining events, she added.

The charges stem from Operation Far West, a wide-reaching probe into dozens of individuals, including Osório, who have been accused of taking part in a bribery scheme in which judges were allegedly paid for favorable decisions in land disputes in western Bahia state between 2013 and 2019.

OCCRP’s calls to the judge’s legal representative were not answered.

Due to the complexity of the scheme, which also involved businessmen, lawyers and civil servants, federal prosecutors’ are pursuing three separate judicial proceedings.

Santos said the members of the group registered properties in the name of Dias, who accrued thousands of hectares of land valued at over US$240 million.

While investigations are still ongoing, Brazil’s Superior Court of Justice, unanimously, rejected preliminary arguments made by lawyers and upheld the decision to remove Osório from her position until final judgment. Osório recently retired because she reached the age limit for judges of 75.