The process that remains: action on buying Swedish fighter jets is

On September 20 of this year, the Federal Public Ministry (MPF) defended the continuation of an open criminal action against Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (PT) for having committed alleged influence peddling in exchange for money in the purchase by the Brazilian State of 36 planes -hunting for a Swedish company, when he was no longer President of the Republic.

This is the last case that remains open against Lula, who, in recent years, had proposals against him at least 18 openings of inquiry, indictments and criminal actions, spent 580 days in prison, had his political rights revoked, was prevented from being a candidate and to even grant interviews during the 2018 election period, having even been prevented from following the burial of a brother.

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Currently, in the indictment that remains and that the Public Ministry still shields, Lula, who left the post of president in 2010, exercised or “pretended to be able to exercise” a predominant influence peddling that would lead the Brazilian government to acquire fighter jets from a Swedish company at the expense of the other two that competed in the Brazilian defense aircraft acquisition process.

In the criminal proceedings, the MPF-DF accuses Lula of having “sold” the false idea that he could influence the Dilma Rousseff government to buy 36 fighter planes from the Swedish company SAAB, and not from the French company Dassault who still has her competition — the other competitor, the North American Boeing, had already left the event.

Everything took place within an intricate process of purchase of military equipment by the Brazilian State, which had been negotiated since the Fernando Henrique Cardoso government (1995-2002) and whose conclusion was only given during the Dilma government, in August 2015.

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In the action, prosecutors claim that former Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven would have tried to arrange a meeting with former President Lula at the end of 2013, and that this meeting would be for Lula to use his influence in the Dilma government to convince her to buy the Swedish fighter jets.

The prosecutors also allege that the Swedish agent (who, at the time, was not yet prime minister of that country), would have written a letter to Lula asking him to “do this favor”.

This is what the MPF-DF claims. The indictment, however, does not contain any evidence that the letter even reached Lula, as pointed out in the case for the defense of the former president, nor does it explain how it would have been possible or if the illegal arrangement between the president and the company was given. How would the former president have interceded with the federal government for the purchase to take place?

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The prosecution of the MPF does not provide these answers, but suggests a reason why the US company has left the competitive process before its end: “The determining factor in the choice of the former president [Dilma Rousseff] it really seems to have been her crisis with the then American president, Barack Obama, based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden”.

“The acquisition process of the Gripen NG fighters (the Swedish product) was permeated with technical refinement and attention to economic-financial issues and the country’s fiscal situation. The complexity of the factors involved does not allow simple justifications elaborated by the prosecution to explain the decision-making process. Thus, the contribution of the Parquet (Public Attorney’s Office) by issuing shallow opinions on issues that are beyond its purview is of little relevance,” was the response, in the same process, to Lula’s defense of the accusation.

The renewal of the Brazilian Air Force (FAB) fighter fleet is a long-standing project, whose embryo goes back to the government of José Sarney, and carries an important geopolitical decision. The assessment was made by Alcides Peron, professor at Fundação Escola de Comércio Álvares Penteado (Fecap).

“The purchase of armaments is not the purchase of any other product, it obeys sets of interests and geopolitical alignments that are very solid, important and sensitive”, says the researcher to the Brazil in fact.

Peron studied the FAB’s FX-2 program, as Brazil’s fighter purchase was named, in his master’s degree at the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP) and points out that the Swedes from SAAB were chosen because they offered the best offset, a term used to refer to the compensation package that accompanies the negotiation. The sale of Gripen fighters foresees the production of parts for the aircraft in Brazil, by Embraer, in addition to personnel training and technology transfer.

“We cannot think that it is just the government or three, five or ten soldiers in a small room discussing this, no. You had active participation from the national industry, sectors of Fiesp [Federação das Indústrias do Estado de São Paulo], defense sectors widely engaged in this process,” says Peron.

It is in this context that the then US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, visited Brazil in 2010 and defended the purchase of Boeing fighter jets. And the US embassy in Brazil issued a statement defending the purchase of F-18 fighter jets. In addition, Donna Hrinak, US ambassador to Brazil from 2002 to 2004, has been president of Boeing in Brazil since 2011.

The United States, however, was never close to closing the contract with the Brazilian government. The choice was between the French from Dassault, as the favorites in the dispute, and the Swedes from SAAB, assesses the professor at Fecap.

In 2013, an episode contributed to diminish Boeing’s chances: Edward Snowden’s revelation that the US spied on then-President Dilma Rousseff and Petrobras, as well as other world leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“The Edward Snowden episode helps to shake a little the relations between Brazil and the USA, but at that moment the choice of the North American fighter was already sidelined for a long time because what they offered as offsets and a purchase like this requires a set of benefits, because it is a geopolitical alignment.”

The forecast is that the Federal Court in DF decides this year for the continuation or not of the criminal action.

Edition: Leandro Melito

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