Cablegate: Magalhaes Wiretapping Case Goes to Senate Floor

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (SBU) SUMMARY. On April 30, the leadership of the
Brazilian Senate refused to order the opening of expulsion
proceedings against Senator Antonio Carlos Magalhaes (PFL)
for allegedly ordering hundreds of illegal phone taps against
his political opponents in his home state of Bahia. The
decision by the leadership, led by Magalhaes' ally Jose
Sarney, was not unexpected and kicks the case back to the
Senate floor. Magalhaes' legal and ethics problems are far
from over, and with political winds buffeting each step of
the way, it is too early to say whether the Senator will
suffer punishment or "have a pizza" and skate away unscathed.
In any case, Magalhaes' popularity is unshaken in Bahia.

2. (SBU) The ethics case of Senator Antonio Carlos Magalhaes
("ACM"), the powerful political boss from Bahia, ground
forward this week as the seven-member Senate leadership
board, led by Senate President and longtime ACM ally Jose
Sarney (PMDB-Amapa), refused to order the opening of
expulsion proceedings in the Senate's Ethics Committee. This
decision is part of the torturous path that the case has
followed since exploding in the national press in January.
The case began in late 2001, a few months after Magalhaes
resigned from the Senate for an unrelated earlier ethics
violation. He then allegedly ordered more than 200 illegal
phone taps of his political enemies as well as the
wiretapping and harassment of a young woman who broke off a
relationship with him (reftels). He was reelected to the
Senate in October 2002.

3. (SBU) The case unfolded in public after Magalhaes took
some of the juicier tidbits that he learned through the
wiretaps to the press in order to smear his enemies. The
Senate Ethics Committee, prodded by the victims of the
wiretaps and the radical wing of the PT party, then opened a
preliminary investigation. Last week, after several weeks of
hearing witnesses and reviewing the police report, the
Committee voted 8 to 7 to recommend opening formal expulsion
proceedings. This recommendation went to the Senate
leadership board led by Senate President Sarney for a
decision. In a hurried meeting late on April 30, the
leadership voted 5 to 2 to reject the recommendation. While
the voting, both in the Ethics Committee and the leadership
board, followed expected party lines, the leadership sought
to justify its decision not to open expulsion proceedings by
announcing that ACM should receive only a reprimand for the
ethics violation, while the criminal charges would be decided
by the Supreme Court once the police finish their

4. (SBU) Given the party makeup of the leadership board and
Sarney's views, the April 30 decision was not unexpected, and
it does not kill the chance that ACM will be expelled. Under
congressional rules, the full Senate can vote to override the
leadership's decision, and PT party leader Tiao Viana has
promised to introduce such a motion in the coming days.
There is no certainty that a motion to force expulsion
proceedings will pass on the floor. A preliminary count puts
about 30 Senators for and 30 against, with about 20 still in
play. If the motion does not pass, the ethics case against
ACM will come to a close, likely with some sort of minor
reprimand. The police investigation is ongoing and could, at
least theoretically, lead to a court conviction.

5. (SBU) But if the floor motion passes, then the Ethics
Committee would open formal proceedings, at which point ACM
would no longer have the option of resigning his seat to keep
his political rights. The Ethics Committee has already voted
against ACM once, and given the weight of evidence made
public, it is conceivable that he could be expelled from the
Senate and stripped him of the right to run for public office
for eight years. But the denouement is months down the road,
and ACM and his allies will use every political and
parliamentary trick to keep him in the Senate.

6. (SBU) COMMENT. Though diminished, Magalhaes remains one
of Brazil's most powerful figures. He has dominated the
state of Bahia and the national PFL party for nearly five
decades, and recent polling shows that his popularity remains
intact in the state. The fact that months after the
revelation that he masterminded an enormous wiretapping
scheme and mercilessly harassed a young woman who broke off a
romance with him, the Senate is still dithering over whether
to even open ethics proceedings is testimony to the
complicated political expedience that dominates the Brazilian
congress. Those in ACM's camp --the PFL plus many in the
PMDB and PSDB parties-- are working overtime to stall or
shelve the proceedings. Meanwhile, the PT has been
surprisingly ambivalent. Leading PT Senator Aloizio
Mercadante alternately speaks of the importance of political
probity and of the need to keep the Senate agenda free of
distractions. The PT is surely calculating that ACM, who
supported Lula in the 2002 elections, will be key to passing
the administration's high-stakes pension and tax reform bills
that went to Congress this week.

7. (SBU) In the Brazilian political lexicon, a corrupt
politician who escapes punishment is said to be having a
pizza. Pundits are now running recipes for vatapa pizza
(vatapa being a traditional Bahian dish). It is widely
accepted that ACM did what he is accused of doing. Even the
lead police investigator commented, "Every street vendor in
Bahia knows who ordered the wiretaps." The question is
whether he will have to pay the price for his actions.

© Scoop Media

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