The UBC law school is scheduled to announce tonight (September 28) the winner of the Allard Prize for International Integrity.
The biennial prize is given to individuals and organizations that organizers say in a media release have “shown exceptional courage and leadership in combating corruption and promoting human rights, especially through promoting transparency, accountability and the Rule of Law”.
One of this year’s nominees has attracted attention from a group of lawyers outside Canada, which alleges that the contender has failed to uphold the rule of law.
The said nominee is the Força Tarefa da Lava Jato, which means Car Wash Task Force, a controversial anti-corruption team in Brazil.
According to the media release, the Car Wash squad has “worked to prosecute some of the most powerful Brazilian economic and political elites”.
“’Operation Car Wash’” began as a local money laundering investigation and grew into the largest probe to date uncovering cases of state capture and grand corruption in Brazil,” according to the announcement.
“Its investigations have resulted in over 280 persons charged, 157 convictions, 1,563 years of cumulative jail time and restitution agreements of over US$3 billion,” the media release continued. “The Task Force’s work has led to the most significant anti-corruption bill in Brazil’s history, supported by over 2 million Brazilian citizens, and underscores the message that everyone is equal under the law and even the most powerful leaders will be held accountable.”
However, a group of lawyers in Brazil has objected to the nomination of the Car Wash task force, alleging “numerous abuses, arbitrariness and legal violations” by the squad.
“You need to know that Constitutional Principles are violated daily by the Lava Jato Task Force that are dear to us, such as the Principle of the Presumption of Innocence and the Principle of the Exercise of the Ample Right of Defense …,” the Advogadas e Advogados pela Democracia or the Collective Lawyers for Democracy Principles wrote in a letter to prize organizers.
The lawyers’ group also claimed that the actions of the Car Wash task force are an “affront to the fundamental rights of the Brazilian citizens, hard won after the violent and long process of civil-military dictatorship suffered by Brazil, facts that are destroying the legal order and social peace in the country, with methods proper to the dictatorships that have plagued humanity”.
These practices allegedly included the non-observance of due process, illegal phone taps, coercion of witnesses, and use of illegally obtained evidence.
The Straight on Wednesday (September 27) sent the UBC law school a request for comment, but did not receive a reply as of this morning’s post.
Maxwell Cameron, a UBC political science professor, is a specialist in Latin American affairs.
According to Cameron, “a number of faculty members and students” in UBC are also “concerned” about the nomination of the Brazilian task force.
In a phone interview, Cameron told the Straight that there are concerns about “methods” employed by the team, including the “manner in which people have been detained without charges”.
“There is also I think a perception that the investigations have had a bias,” Cameron said. “Now I don’t know … how accurate that is. What does seem to be clear is that it has been more prejudicial to the left.”
Cameron was referring to the Worker’s Party that was in power when a money laundering investigation in 2014 led to the biggest corruption scandal in Brazil.
The scandal revolves around allegations that state-oil company Petrobas is being cheated by other companies such as construction giant Odebrecht through overpriced contracts, with politicians supposedly benefitting in the scheme.
Two former presidents of Brazil belonging to the Worker’s Party have been implicated.
The current president, Michel Temer, with the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, was charged recently in connection with the continuing Car Wash probe.