RIO DE JANEIRO – The Rio de Janeiro state legislature’s vote on Friday to order the release of three of its members jailed earlier this week on corruption charges fed Brazilians’ perception that well-connected politicians can break the law with impunity.
Assembly speaker Jorge Picciani and two other prominent members of the body, Paulo Melo and Edson Albertassi, were arrested Tuesday on suspicion of racketeering, money laundering, tax evasion and accepting bribes.
All three belong to the PMDB, the same party as Brazilian President Michel Temer, and Picciani is the father of the federal transportation minister, Leonardo Picciani.
Hundreds of people who answered a call from labor unions and civic organizations to protest outside the state assembly during Friday’s special session clashed with police while trying to force their way into the building.
Despite the protests and the evident public disgust, the assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor of ordering Picciani, Melo and Albertassi released under what is known as the “Aecio doctrine,” named for Sen. Aecio Neves, a former presidential candidate.
Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled a month ago that Neves, who had been suspended amid corruption charges, could resume his seat if his congressional colleagues voted to re-admit him.
The court specified only one exception to the Aecio doctrine: a lawmaker apprehended in the act of committing a crime cannot be “rescued” from jail by a vote of his or her colleagues.
The detention of Picciani and the other assembly members was part of the largest anti-corruption operation in the state since the arrest last year of former Rio Gov. Sergio Cabral for allegedly embezzling millions of dollars while in office.
Prosecutors in this latest case say that Cabral, also of the PMDB, created a scheme in the 1990s – when he was speaker of the state assembly – to divert money meant for public transportation into the hands of private bus companies.
He subsequently handed over management of the criminal apparatus to Melo and Picciani, according to the indictment.
Friday’s controversial move by the Rio state assembly is being juxtaposed with news from Brasilia about an 8-year-old boy who fainted from hunger at school.
It soon emerged that the boy’s school was 30 kilometers (19 miles) from his home, a distance he covers every day on foot.
The education department in Federal District put out a statement saying that it had plans to build schools in the boy’s community, but no budget to fund the construction.