Brazil ‘corruption-free’ say Bolsonaro ending graft probe

The six-year inquiry has put some of the country's most high profile business and political figures behind bars

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro gestures during the launching ceremony of the Voo Simples program, which are a set of measures to modernize rules and reduce costs in the general aviation sectors, at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, October 7, 2020. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
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Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has ended Operation Car Wash, the country’s biggest corruption investigation yet and insisted the government was now free of the malaise.

Launched six years ago, the investigation has put some of the biggest names in politics and business behind bars, including former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

But it has become increasingly bogged down by politics and controversy.

The far-right leader said he was "proud" to end it.

"I ended Car Wash because there is no more corruption in government," he said at an event announcing measures to support civil aviation at the presidential palace in Brasilia.

His comments were met with laughter and applause by dozens of executives and officials at the event.

Operation Car Wash, which last month was extended by the Brazilian attorney general until January 31, has changed Brazilian politics and business since it was launched as a money-laundering investigation.

Using an aggressive strategy of arrests and plea bargains, it has steadily pried the lid off a massive corruption scheme in which politicians and business executives plundered billions of dollars from state-run oil company Petrobras.

Suspects' tell-all confessions in exchange for lighter sentences sent tremors around Latin America, as it emerged that a laundry list of powerful politicians had taken huge bribes from one of the main players in the scheme, the construction company Odebrecht, in exchange for juicy public contracts.

The operation's success in bringing once untouchable figures to justice made it popular in corruption-weary Brazil.

But more recently, critics have accused the taskforce of pushing its aggressive tactics too far, provoking twin political and economic crises and undermining suspects' right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

It also faces accusations of playing politics, particularly after leaked communications appeared to show investigators conspiring to keep Lula, a leftist icon, from staging a comeback in Brazil's 2018 presidential race.