Page last updated at 15:59 GMT, Saturday, 12 July 2008 16:59 UK

Brazil's judges in corruption row

By Gary Duffy
BBC News, Sao Paulo

Brazilian police with evidence seized in corruption investigation - Rio de Janeiro, 8/7/2008
Brazilian police are conducting a wide-ranging corruption investigation

A major row has broken out among Brazil's judiciary over a corruption probe that has seen a businessman arrested and freed twice in two days.

Each time, prominent businessman Daniel Dantas was ordered released by the president of Brazil's Supreme Court.

At least 130 members of the judiciary have signed a letter in support of the judge who ordered both arrests and who is himself now under investigation.

The Supreme Court chief said there was not enough evidence for the arrests.

The decision by Gilmar Mendes, the president of the Supreme Court, has also been criticised by the association of senior officers in the Federal Police and dozens of public prosecutors.

Bribery allegations

Mr Dantas was arrested earlier this week along with a number of other people as part of a wide-ranging corruption investigation.

Following an application by defence lawyers for habeas corpus, Mr Mendes ordered his release.

Mr Dantas was detained for a second time just a few hours later, amid allegations that some of his associates had tried to pay a bribe to interfere with the continuing police operation.

However, within 24 hours Mr Mendes again ruled that Mr Dantas should be freed.

The businessman was driven away from the Sao Paulo police station where he was being held.

Mr Mendes said in his ruling that he believed there was insufficient grounds for the arrest.

He also made clear he regarded the decision by a judge in a lower court that Mr Dantas should be detained a second time was an act of disrespect, and said copies of the judge's ruling should be passed on to the relevant legal authorities.

That decision caused considerable anger in legal circles, and at least 130 judges have now put their names to a statement in support of Judge Fausto Martin de Sanctis, who ordered both arrests.

The Federal Association of Judges of Brazil said Judge de Sanctis had done nothing more than exercise the role assigned to him by the constitution.

In a further bizarre development the office of the president of the Supreme Court was checked for listening devices after claims that the same judge had ordered the police to carry out surveillance.

Nothing was found, and Judge de Sanctis has denied this allegation.

The original police investigation is continuing, but of the 17 people arrested earlier in the week only one is still in custody.

For the moment the investigation's objectives seem overshadowed by the controversy which has engulfed the judiciary.

Brazil makes corruption arrests
10 Apr 08 |  Americas
Country profile: Brazil
22 Apr 08 |  Country profiles

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