Government Under Alert

Folha's reporting caused the first major political crisis in the Bolsonaro administration

Paula Cesarino Costa
São Paulo

A series of scoops published by Folha since early February caused the most significant crisis inside Bolsonaro's office so far and brought on the firing of one of his ministers, Gustavo Bebianno, who was also a leading figure during the 2018 campaign. 

A detailed investigation showed that the president's political party PSL adopted highly irregular practices to appropriate funds allocated to political campaigns by the federal government. PSL used phony candidates and fake companies to embezzle the money. Bebianno at the time was the party's head and therefore responsible for signing on the distribution of funds.


See our coverage in English below:
 

Tourism Minister Created Fake Congress Candidates To Embezzle Campaign Money

Bolsonaro's Party Created Phony Candidate To Pocket Public Campaign Funds

Bolsonaro's Son Attacks Minister Over Campaign Money Embezzlement Accusations

The Brazilian Federal Police and Attorney General's office started to an investigation, putting the minister in a tight spot.

What followed up was a war between Bebianno and the Bolsonaro clan through the press, with audio leaks from both sides trying to prove (and the other hand, to disprove) the president's support of the minister.

On Saturday morning (16th), Bebianno's resignation or dismissal was considered unavoidable.

As I wrote before, a journalist's goals should not be getting ministers fired, but we must investigate those in power and bring those investigations to the public. In this episode, Folha was flawless.
 

It is significant that the Bolsonaro family didn't react on social media and commented on Folha's scoops. It was an unusual move for them. Similarly, readers who support Bolsonaro and write to me often also kept mum. It's a sign that the reporters' work was well done.

Some readers compared the amounts involved with those investigated by Operation Carwash. But such an argument is quickly brought down with the notion that ethics and moral behavior don't come with a minimum price tag.

A reader demanded that the newspaper showed if such practice was restricted to PSL. It didn't seem likely.

On Friday (15th), Folha reported that the practice is indeed common within other political parties. According to data from the previous election, 53 candidates (49 women) from 14 parties received over R$ 100,000 (US$ 27,000) each and had less than a thousand votes. The law that makes it mandatory that 30% of the government campaign funds are awarded to women causes females to be disproportionately named as phony candidates.

Brazilians elected Bolsonaro and his party on the promise that he was going to make politics differently. Folha's investigation shows that it might not be the case.

The newspaper now needs to continue its coverage of the Bolsonaro administration in the same manner, with balance and accurate reporting.

Translated by NATASHA MADOV

Read the article in the original language​​