The Brilliant Names of Brazil's Anti-Corruption Operations: A Guide
This piece was updated on March 7.
Operação Lava Jato, or “Operation Car Wash,” isn’t the only odd-sounding police sting to make waves in Brazil in recent years. Here are some of the names and stories behind the country’s most scintillating anti-corruption busts:
Operação Lava Jato
In March 2014, a Brazilian currency exchanger named Alberto Youssef was caught using a gas station to launder money. The police sting in which he was arrested would lead to the biggest corruption investigation in the country’s history. Operation Car Wash became synonymous with the wide-ranging scandal that has since taken down dozens of the country’s top businesspeople and politicians. Rumors that the “Car Wash” moniker was inspired by the U.S. television series Breaking Bad, in which protagonist Walter White launders drug money through his car wash, have only heightened interest in the case.
Operação Aletheia made headlines on March 4 when it led to the detention Brazil's former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Da Silva was taken for questioning by the Federal Police on allegations he received illicit benefits and renovations for a beachfront apartment worth $270,000, though he denied the charges. The operation's namesake, Aletheia, is a Greek expression that means “seeking the truth.”
Operação Catilinárias, or Operation Catiline Orations, took place under the umbrella of the Lava Jato scandal. On December 15, 2015, the Brazilian Supreme Court issued 53 search and seizure warrants targeting top officials, including Speaker of the House Eduardo Cunha and the president of the Senate Renan Calheiros, under accusations of corruption and money laundering.
The name dates all the way back to 63 BC, when, in a series of four speeches now known as the Catiline orations, Marcus Tullius Cicero accused Senator Lucius Sergius Catilina of planning a coup against the Roman Republic. In Brazil, the speeches are often cited when a public official violates the general interest of his or her constituents.
Operação Professor Pardal
Professor Pardal is the Portuguese name for Gyro Gearloose, a cartoon chicken that was part of the Donald Duck series from the 1950s. As his name suggests, Gyro Gearloose was an inventor whose creations did not always work the way he intended. The Brazilian operation refers to an investigation in which 16 people were found trafficking drugs in vehicles with false floors and secret storage spaces. In some cars, the traffickers built electromechanical panels to help them better hide their merchandise.
Operação Pixuleco and Operação Pixuleco II
Pixuleco is slang in Brazilian Portuguese for a bribe or dirty money. During recent investigations of state-run oil giant Petrobras, the ex-treasurer of the Workers’ Party (PT), João Vaccari Neto, used the term in reference to fees that were collected by the company totaling over 50 million reais. The money was collected through payroll loans granted by the Ministry of Planning, and former minister of staff José Dirceu was jailed for his participation.
Operação Firula, or Operation Eye Candy, was a 2005 bust over illicit financial transactions involving some notable Brazilian national football players. A reference to the flashy lifestyle enjoyed by the superstar footballers involved in the scandal, Operation Eye Candy led to the arrest in a luxury home of businessmen Reinaldo Pitta and Alexandre Martins.
Xeque-Mate is a Brazilianism for “check mate,” and refers to the 2006 take down of Anísio Rodrigues de Melo, the so called “King” of trafficking (Rei do Tráfico). Until his arrest, Rodrigues had overseen the import and distribution of narcotics from São Paulo in Rio de Janeiro. The gang made more than 1.5 million reais in one year from drug sales, but was dismantled as a result of the operation. A total of 35 people – should we say pawns? – were arrested for their involvement.
Operação My Way
In a nod to one of "Ol' Blue Eyes" Frank Sinatra’s most famous songs, Operation My Way is a reference to the "Blue-eyed Renato Duque," a former director of Petrobras accused of involvement in the Lava Jato scandal. Duque was given the nickname by an informant in the case, but he isn't the only one who may think to sing along with the famous tune, “And now, the end is near, and so I face the final curtain…”
Operação Triplo X
Operação Triplo X or “Operation Triple X” sounds a lot more libidinous than it is. The name was derived from a triplex apartment used by an off-shore company to allegedly hide assets for the Bank Housing Cooperative of São Paulo, which built the condominium, and a construction company called OAS, which took over the project. This operation was also part of the wide-ranging Lava Jato scandal.