Brazil President’s Christmas Decree Draws a Firestorm, and a Rebuff

Prosecutors had argued that the president’s decree would make plea bargains — a relatively new feature of Brazilian criminal law, but one that has been instrumental in the Lava Jato investigation — far less appealing.

The inquiry has exposed institutionalized bribery at large companies, including the state-owned oil giant, Petrobras, and Odebrecht, a construction company that admitted in legal proceedings that it had paid hundreds of millions of dollars to politicians across Latin America to secure contracts.

“This pardon is the most concrete act by President Temer against the mechanism of plea bargains and a clear sign that he wants to weaken the judiciary’s fight against corruption,” Monique Cheker, a federal prosecutor in Rio de Janeiro State, said in an interview Thursday.

A spokesman for the president referred questions to the Justice Ministry, which on Thursday defended the pardon guidelines as sensible. Justice Minister Torquato Jardim said over the weekend that Mr. Temer had felt this was “the right political moment for a more liberal stance on pardons.”

The administration could seek a review by the full court when it reconvenes in February.

In a separate case, Mr. Temer’s administration is seeking to bar the imprisonment of people convicted of crimes until their appeals have been exhausted. In a brief before the Supreme Court, the executive branch has argued that delaying prison sentences safeguards defendants’ rights. Prosecutors counter that such a move would represent a return to an era in which white-collar cases languished for years during appeals.

“It would do great harm to Lava Jato in the best of cases, delaying the execution of sentences for at least a decade,” said Roberson Pozzobon, a prosecutor assigned to a Lava Jato task force in Curitiba, the southern city where the investigation began. “This setback would mean the institutionalization of impunity and would therefore create a great incentive for criminal…

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