Federal Police Case against Wellington Dias, Minister in Lula’s Government, and Rejane Dias, Wife, Mentions Couple’s Daughter and Reveals Systemic Corruption in Brazil
At the end of last year, a VEJA report revealed that Rejane Dias, a counselor of the Court of Auditors of Piauí and the wife of the Minister of Social Development, the leftist Wellington Dias, had been accused of passive corruption in a case proceeding in secrecy at the Superior Court of Justice (STJ). The case involves car rental companies, inflated contracts, and bribery. According to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, between 2015 and 2018, Rejane held the position of Secretary of Education of Piauí, while her husband was the governor of the state, and during this period, she allegedly received financial benefits from a company that provided transportation services to underprivileged students. This accusation alone would be embarrassing for the minister in charge of overseeing the government’s main social program and managing a budget of 280 billion reais. VEJA now has access to the full process. The details of the investigation, which are still kept secret, are even more embarrassing. In addition to his wife, the Federal Police gathered evidence that the minister’s daughter, his brother-in-law, and the minister himself are involved in the scheme.
With 979 pages, the Federal Police and the Public Prosecutor’s Office describe what would be a criminal partnership between the government of Piauí and service providers. The plot is typical: government officials benefit friends, party colleagues, and campaign financiers with public contracts, and profits are then shared. The politicians’ share returns in the form of bribery payments or through clandestine contributions to electoral campaigns. In the case of Piauí, agents identified both modalities of dividend distribution. According to investigators, the scheme began in 2008 when the governor appointed Professor Luiz Carlos Magno to head the institutional superintendence of the Department of Education. One of the responsibilities of the position was to interact with municipalities to structure the transportation of public school students as effectively as possible. The professor, then an active PT militant, would prove to be a true master in the new activity.
With the expertise gained in government, in 2009, at the end of Wellington Dias’s term, Luiz Carlos resigned, waived his salary of 2,500 reais, and became a partner in several vehicle rental companies, using “fronts” to hide his involvement in the business. The businessman’s life began to yield good results, but the big leap was yet to come. In 2014, while Dias served as a senator and prepared to return to the government of Piauí, his wife was a state deputy (PT) and ran for a seat in the National Congress. Both were successful, and not by coincidence, they used the services of one of the ex-professor’s companies in their campaigns. Both, according to the police, resorted to the same stratagem. In the financial statements submitted to the Electoral Justice, Wellington Dias reported spending 115,000 reais on vehicle rentals for his committee, while Rejane spent slightly less, 82,000 reais. Everything seemed normal, accompanied by the respective invoices, but only seemingly, as would be discovered later.
In 2015, Wellington Dias reassumed the government of Piauí. His wife, the elected federal deputy, resigned from Congress to take over the Secretary of Education of the state. It was during this period that, according to the Federal Police, the scheme began to operate at full throttle. At the Department of Education, manipulated tenders ensured the success of the ex-professor’s companies, which, in the following years, billed 200 million reais. The values of the contracts and the lavish lifestyle of the newfound wealthy drew the attention of authorities. An audit by the Comptroller General of the Union detected signs of overpricing. The Federal Police were then called in, began investigating, and pulled the thread of the scheme, resulting in charges against more than forty people for criminal organization, active and passive corruption, and money laundering. It was demonstrated that the businessmen adjusted prices, relied on the complicity of Department of Education employees to rig tenders, and shared the profits. It is estimated that the embezzlements totaled 120 million reais.
The final and most embarrassing part of the plot was revealed when the Federal Police conducted searches at the addresses of those involved. In the ex-professor’s companies, books, pen drives, and computers were seized. The suspects also had their banking, tax, telephone, and electronic communication privacy lifted. The cross-referencing of information revealed that the partnership between the criminals and the governor’s family had been effective since the 2014 campaign. At the time, Wellington Dias used a Hilux pickup truck. The car was supposedly rented, according to the documents submitted in the governor’s campaign finance report. However, in one of the spreadsheets seized at the rental agency, the vehicle was listed as a “courtesy” of the company. In other words, the campaign supposedly did not spend a single cent on rent. In the same spreadsheet, there were three other vehicles listed as “courtesy”: one for Rejane Dias, another for the then candidate for vice-governor, and a third for one of the couple’s daughters. It wasn’t just a “courtesy.”
Upon analyzing the documents, the police concluded that the money supposedly used to pay for the vehicle rentals – at least in the case of Rejane Dias – was intended to “divert public resources in favor of the investigated companies and the accused herself.” Messages found on the rental company’s computers revealed that the then former first lady received gifts such as perfumes, jewelry, and some “loans” in cash. After her husband’s inauguration, when the scheme was already in operation, she used two luxury cars, both gifted by the company: a Trailblazer and a Corolla, which cost 331,000 reais. The rental agency also provided two other cars for the governor’s brother-in-law and sent 100,000 reais to his account – money that, according to the Federal Police, had Rejane Dias as the true recipient. The TCE counselor was charged at the end of last year with criminal organization, corruption, and money laundering. Summoned to testify, she said the accusations were unfounded and the investigation completely illegal.
The name of Minister Wellington Dias is mentioned more than a dozen times in the Federal Police report. In addition to the “courtesies” and suspicious appointments, investigators identified a curious coincidence involving the then governor. Through geolocation data collected from the cell phones of one of the criminals, it was discovered that he followed the same route on the dates of contract payments. He went to the bank, withdrew the money, went to the company, and from there, to the headquarters of the Piauí government. “There are records of Paula Rodrigues’ location history at Palácio Karnak, the state government headquarters and where Wellington Dias, governor and husband of deputy and former Secretary of Education Rejane Dias, works,” says the PF report. Paula Rodrigues was the financial manager of the gang. The minister is not among the suspects. When contacted, he declined to comment. On Tuesday the 30th, Transparency International released the corruption perception ranking in 180 countries. Brazil ranks a shameful 104th.