Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said on Wednesday that he has ended the country's biggest-ever corruption probe, “Operation Car Wash,” as there is “no more corruption in the government.”
Launched six years ago, the investigation has put some of the biggest names in politics and business behind bars, including former president Lula da Silva. But it has become increasingly bogged down by politics and controversy.
The far-right leader said he was proud to end it. I ended Car Wash because there is no more corruption in government, he stated at an event announcing measures to support civil aviation at the presidential palace in Brasilia.
His comments were met with laughter and applause by dozens of executives and officials at the event.
Operation Car Wash, which last month was extended by the Brazilian attorney general until January 31, has upended Brazilian politics and business since it was launched as a money-laundering probe.
Using an aggressive strategy of arrests and plea bargains, it has steadily pried the lid off a massive corruption scheme in which politicians and business executives plundered billions of dollars from state-run oil company Petrobras.
Suspects' tell-all confessions in exchange for lighter sentences sent tremors around Latin America, as it emerged that a laundry list of powerful politicians had taken huge bribes from one of the main players in the scheme, the construction company Odebrecht, in exchange for juicy public contracts.
The operation's success in bringing once untouchable figures to justice made it popular in corruption-weary Brazil. But more recently, critics have accused the task force of pushing its aggressive tactics too far, provoking twin political and economic crises and undermining suspects' right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
It also faces accusations of playing politics, particularly after leaked communications appeared to show investigators conspiring to keep Lula, a leftist icon, from staging a come-back in Brazil's 2018 presidential race.
Likewise Bolsonaro needs to build alliances with the complex network of Brazilian politics to ensure a good showing in the coming municipal elections when over 5,600 cities will be choosing officials, plus reinforcing the president's re-election chances in 2022.