Brazil: Open data just made investigating corruption easier
By Fabiano Angelico
All of the official documentation of legal suits from Brazil’s biggest corruption scandal – Operation Car Wash or Lava Jato – is now available to search easily online. This will make it easier for investigators and ordinary citizens to find out who has been implicated in the scandal, even if they don’t hit the headlines. It’s a way to make sure the corrupt don’t try to hide their misdeeds.
The new tool is called Lava JOTA. It was developed by the Brazilian journalism start up JOTA, which specialises in covering judicial systems and procedures, and Digesto, a company that works on legal big data, in partnership with Transparency International. There are literally hundreds of thousands of documents online that relate to more than 1,100 lawsuits.
It’s easy to use and already popular: in the first month after its launch in April it received more than 150,000 visitors who carried out 55,000 searches. So far the most popular search term are for two former Brazilian presidents: Dilma Rousseff and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dominicana, or Dominican Republic, whose leading politicians have also been implicated in the scandal.
The Lava Jato operation started as an investigation in 2014 into corruption at Petrobras, Brazil’s state-owned energy giant, but quite quickly spread to other state-owned enterprise and private sector contractors involved in projects both at the federal and regional level.
It is now three years old, and has led to investigations into hundreds of politicians, including a third of current President Michel Temer's cabinet, a third of Senate as well as dozens of members of the Lower House of Congress, governors and former politicians.
One of the most high profile people caught up in the investigation is Marcelo Odebrecht, the head of Brazil’s largest construction company that bears his name, which along with a handful of other private sector companies was at the centre of the extensive bribery network that has spread to more than 11 countries overseas. He was convicted of corruption and his company’s plea bargaining testimony has led to even more investigations and legal actions.
Indeed, over the last three years, the Lava Jato investigations have generated over 1,100 lawsuits which can now be searched on the Lava JOTA platform. This work has been done to let anyone with internet access, not only experts, lawyers or journalists, find out who was involved in this corruption and how.
More about the Carwash Task force
➜ The Carwash Task Force (Força-Tarefa Lava Jato) of Brazil was selected as the winner of the 2016 Anti-Corruption Award.
For example, a query for the word "offshore" turns up more than 1,060 entries. This shows just how often secret offshore companies were cited or used in setting up the bribery networks. It is known that Odebrecht, for example, used a sophisticated web of offshore companies to hide the bribes it paid Brazilian and foreign officials.
This kind of information can be used to advocate strongly for the end to secret companies because we know that they are used by the corrupt.
Try it out. Go to https://jota.info/lavajota/ and search for someone or a company that you think might be involved in the scandal.
Fabiano Angelico is a senior research at Transparency International based in Brazil. He is the author of Sao Paulo: does corruption live next door?, an investigation into the use of secret companies to buy property in South America’s biggest city.
For any press inquiries please contact [email protected]
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