On First Looking Into “I, Cacciola”

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Apologia pro vita sua and “witness to history” read of the week.

Lately, I have been reading Alberto Cacciola’s Eu, Alberto Cacciola, Confesso (“I, Cacciola, Confess”) — edited into shape by Eric Nepomuceno, who plays Alex Haley to the man’s Malcolm X.

Published in 2001, in reappeared in bookstores recently when the man returned to the headlines after being detained in Monaco, where his extradition is being requested.

Of the persons convicted and sentenced in the case — including the former president of the Central Bank — he is the only one to have been ordered to prison while awaiting appeal.

In an odd little incident, a habeas corpus petition filed on his behalf recently was found to have not been filed by his defense attorneys, but by a São Paulo resident not listed by the local bar association as licensed to practice.

It seems to owe a literary debt to

  • I, Claudius
  • The Confessions of Saint Augustine
  • Lazarillo del Tormes
  • Tristram Shandy and
  • Machado de Assis’s The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas

Among others. The memoirs of a Tupi-Italian immigrant childhood in Rio might interest a Scorcese, or fans of Italo Svevo, for example.

It is, in other words, a fairly typical Brazilian apologia pro vita sua, albeit with some necessary digressions of the “forex hedge funds for dummies” type.

The owner of the Marka Bank was found guilty and sentenced for, generally speaking, having benefited from an irregular bailout of his financial institution by the Central Bank during the crisis over the devaluation of the currency in 1999.

He claims he was made the fall guy of a media-driven scandal designed to distract attention from systematic pillaging by others during the devaluation crisis.

Such things do seem to happen. The current president of the Brazilian senate — the Minister of Justice at the time of the Marka scandal — faces an impeachment vote this week, for example, on charges that he illegally controls two public broadcast concessions.

The PROJOR project here, for example, has identified numerous lawmakers in a similar situation — some of them among the principal accusers of the gentleman from Alagoas. See

When a scandal broke out over kickbacks in the contract to build a new courthouse in Sâo Paulo a few years back, a senior judge was tried, convicted, and sentenced to house arrest, but none of the kickback payers suffered any consequences.

There is news clipping on the subject in my post

From the dust-jacket blurb:

The Brazilian news media dedicated more than 4,000 newspaper and magazine pages to the case, 4 and half hours on TV Globo, 8 and a half hours on the GloboNews cable channel, 2 hours and 20 minutes on TV record, and an hour and a half on Bandeirantes — material which Cacciola offers to anyone interested in writing “a devastating thesis about the irresponsibility and shallow stupidity of the Brazilian press.”

See also

As Globo reported there,

The former banker was charged with receiving inside information on monetary policy, interest rates and other secret matters from then Central Bank president, Francisco Lopes. Further, Cacciola is charged with benefiting from a loan from the Central Bank that resulted in a loss of R$1.5 billion to the public treasury, because of the low exchange rate used in the transaction.

This seems to be inaccurate.

The point is that the former banker was not convicted of receiving inside information, as I understand it. He was convicted (1) on charges related to an allegedly irregular loan he made to a friend in 1991, on which he was previously cleared in a disciplinary hearing by the financial regulator, and (2) as a party to the bailout transactions in which the Central Bank bought out his dollar position at a negotiated price.

The Rashomon effect is notable. Consultor Jurídico, for example, summarized the case quite differently:

O ex-dono do Banco Marka foi envolvido em um escândalo em janeiro de 1999, quando o real sofreu uma maxidesvalorização em relação ao dólar: o Banco Central elevou o teto da cotação do dólar de R$ 1,22 a R$ 1,32.

The former owner of the Banco Marka was involved in a scandal in January 1999 when the real suffered a megadevaluation against the dollar: The Central Bank rased the ceiling on the exchange rate from R$1.22 to R$1.32.

That only represents an 8% devaluation. The “megadevaluation” took place when the Central Bank let the real float free.

In his defense, Cacciola makes a lot of charges, including a scene in which a high-powered Rio lawyer and “fixer” allegedly informs him that if he wants to escape conviction, he has to bribe his judges.

This, mind you, was five or six years between the judicial bribery case known as Operation Hurricane.

A Supreme Court justice whose name was mentioned on (leaked, naturally) wiretaps of sleazy personages discussing a large payment for a favorable ruling recently took early retirement.

He denied involvement in any such scheme. The suspicions raised by the (leaked) wiretap will likely never be formally confirmed or falsified.

All I can say is: This state of legal uncertainty is apparently what Alberto Gonzales had in mind for our great republic. Consider “the strange case of Governor Siegelman.”

David Sasaki-style “fear and misinformation abound”!

Cacciola also describes prosecutors leaking damaging (and not necessarily well-founded) accusations to the press (anonymously), then using the resulting sensationalist press coverage as a justification for opening formal investigations into the persons accused.

The case started when Veja magazine ran an article with the following headline:

The Suicide Bomber: Cacciola, former owner of the Marka Bank, has explosive information about his relations with the Central Bank

The story accused Cacciola of being part of a group of bankers who paid huge bribes for insider information from the Central Bank.

Its source: Anonymous.

Cacciola was eventually convicted, but not, as I understand it, for that.

Clinton was eventually caught out for porking Monica Lewinsky and lying about it under oath, but there is no credibile evidence he had Vince Foster whacked.

(Similarly with Zé Dirceu here in Brazil and the assassinated mayor Celso Daniel. The man is on the hook for four meetings with Belo Horizonte Baldy, as I understand it — not all of whose dealings have been formally accused of being illegal. The guy actually did produce an ad campaign or two, here and there. A finding in Dirceu’s trial, and a full explanation of those meetings, will likely not be forthcoming until 2010.)

Cacciola claims that the “losses to the public treasury” in the transaction, widely reported as some R$1.5 billion, actually only amounted to some $55 million. That is an interesting exercise in business math I will try to explain in plain English when I get a chance.

His comments on Veja‘s reporting on the case invite careful study as well, particularly regarding its use of anonymous sourcing.

In the Renan Calheiros case here recently, for example, the anonymous source apparently turned out to be — I am not sure that Veja admits this, but the inference seems pretty straightforward to me — the palimony attorney for the woman with whom the senator had a child out of wedlock — the same lawyer who reportedly negotiated the woman’s appearance in Veja’s sister publication, Playboy Brasil.

In the case of federal lawmaker Ibsen Pinheiros, Veja ran a story back in the mid-1990s charging the man with having US$1 million in a bank account.

When its fact-checking department indicated that the account in question only contained R$1,000 — based on bank records — it went out searching for a source to “corroborate” the figure of $1 million. It found it in a political enemy of the lawmaker, who “confirmed” the $1 million — based on pure say-so — so long as he was not identified as the source of the confirmation.

This by Veja‘s own account.

See.

So Veja has a track record of running baseless accusations sourced anonymously to interested parties whose interests are not disclosed to the reader.

And it has on at least one occasion turned a thousand into a million, like Jebus turning water to wine.

Has it really contributed to turning millions into billions in this case?

Let me clip and English some of Cacciola’s claims, then go and check them against the archives.

On April 14, 1999, Veja reported that a certain banker had stated that I payed $125,000, together with three other banks, to a senior Central Bank official in exchange for inside information. That is, that each bank kicked in $125,000 per month, for a totally of $500,000.

What ever became of that charge?

In its April 21, 1999 edition, three persons are quoted saying that, in a conversation with me, they heard that I had information “from inside the Central Bank” that the change in monetary policy would only occur in February. It happens that these three persons, as soon as the story was published, sent letters to the Central Bank, the Federal Police and Veja, disowning and denying those statements. Obviously, Veja never published those letters.

Okay, let’s stop and fact-check that statement. Did Veja receive a correction from the putative sources of the statements it printed, and fail to print it?

It has engaged in such conduct before.

Processing … Has anybody written a decent analysis of these claims? I wonder if there are any contemporary book reviews on the subject that might help?

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