Brazil: Globo, the Martyred Judge, and the “Notorious Paraguayan Hitman Syndicate” Theory


“Smile, you’re being manipulated”: commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Globo television network. Is Globo the victim or the perp in a recent court case? Source: Zero Fora.

Consultor Jurídico (Brazil) reports:

A TV Globo está obrigada a pagar R$ 250 mil de indenização por danos morais para o desembargador Manoel Ornellas de Almeida, do Tribunal de Justiça de Mato Grosso. Motivo: a emissora divulgou reportagem em que um outro desembargador acusava seus colegas de venda de sentenças judiciais. Ornellas foi um dos citados.

TV Globo was ordered to pay R$250,000 in damages to a state supreme court judge, Manoel Ornellas de Almeida, in Mato Grosso. Reason: It aired a report in which another judge accused his colleagues on the court of selling judicial verdicts. Ornellas was among those cited.

Just for airing those accusations?

What was the legal basis for the decision?

What was the content of the report Globo aired?

Is this a just decision?

Was this perhaps another one of Globo’s sleazy, fabricated hit-pieces?

Or should we be calling Reporters Without Borders and expressing concern about freedom of the press in Brazil?

This is another one of those cases in which a case is widely reported in the Brazilian media, but the reporting quite simply plagiarizes an official press release, without attribution.

In this case, the press release from the state judiciary of Mato Grosso.

See also

I mention it because I have been thinking today about the hoax reported on by the Wall Street Journal in Iraq: see

Because death squads do sometimes kill journalists in Iraq and elsewhere, the story was plausible. But it was not true.

In this case, because there are documented cases of judicial corruption, intimidation, and assassination, of the kind charged here, the story was plausible. Was it true?

Plausibility is not truth.

Globo and Veja tend to disagree, of course. What is truth? said Pilate, washing his hands.

But they also tend to lose a lot of civil libel cases for stating nonexistent facts. See, for example:

These sorts of cases generally divide into two types, it seems to me: (1) criminal descato (disrespect for authority) cases under the Press Laws of 1967, and (2) civil libel, in which making gratuitous, baseless, damaging accusations against someone can eventually — in this case, eight years later — cost you.

Which is why this way of reporting on the outcome of a legal proceeding really surprises me. Especially coming from a specialty publication for the legal profession.

It is oddly uninformative.

There is no recap of the case or summary of the facts at issue.

It is a bit like reporting that OJ was found not guilty, but not reporting on any of the facts or evidence in the case.

Was “if the gloves don’t fit, you must acquit” a valid argument? You remember the public debate (and media circus) over that issue. And you know the theory: The spectacle of justice is vital to promoting public confidence in the efficacy of justice.

In Brazil, if the case involves a chance to ratfink political or commercial enemies of the news media, the circus tent is pitched, the elephants herded into positions, the clowns stuffed into the tiny car.

If the case involves the media itself, the curtain comes down.

Which is why I go looking for the original complaint in the case, to see what the plaintiff alleged, concretely, about the content of that report. But cannot find it on the Web site of the STJ. Or at least I cannot, and I am halfway decent at poking around in databases.

A while back, Veja magazine, to take another example, reported charges of corruption against election judges in the federal district:

A scandal!

But whatever happened to that case? If there was a resolution to it, I never read about it.

De acordo com o processo, em setembro de 1999, o Jornal Nacional, da TV Globo, divulgou uma entrevista em que o juiz Leopoldino Marques do Amaral denunciou vários colegas por venda de sentença. Entre os denunciados estava o então juiz Manoel Ornellas de Almeida.

According to filings in the case, in September 1999, Globo’s Jornal Nacional aired an interview in which Judge Marques do Amaral accused several colleagues of selling verdicts. Ornellas was one of them.

Was Globo condemned for what Amaral said, or for what it said?

Segundo a defesa da TV Globo, a reportagem com as acusações do juiz só foi mostrada porque Leopoldino Amaral foi assassinado com dois tiros na cabeça, quatro dias após conceder a entrevista à emissora. O assassinato ocorreu em 7 de setembro de 1999.

According to the defense by TV Globo, the report conveying the judge’s accusations was aired because Amaral was assassinated with two bullets to the head, four days after granting the interview, on September 7, 1999.

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc?

There most be more to the story than that.

IstoÉ magazine reported some of the same statements by Amaral on September 15, 1999, and reported on the judge’s murder.

Na terça-feira 7, o corpo do juiz foi encontrado, carbonizado, à beira de uma estrada de terra em Concepción, no Paraguai, a 350 quilômetros da divisa com Mato Grosso do Sul. Leopoldino foi executado com dois tiros à queima-roupa. Um na nuca e outro no ouvido. O juiz investigava nova e explosiva denúncia: o possível envolvimento de magistrados de Mato Grosso com o narcotráfico. Suspeito da execução do juiz, o pistoleiro Maurício Marques Niveiro, ex-sargento da PM de Mato Grosso do Sul, foi preso na quinta-feira na lanchonete da rodoviária de Ponta Porã, na divisa com o Paraguai. Maurício responde a vários crimes, entre eles cinco homicídios. Testemunhas disseram que o ex-policial, preso com uma pistola 3.80, de fabricação tcheca, esteve em Cerro Corá, onde foi encontrado o carro do juiz. Segundo investigações preliminares, o ex-PM está ligado ao conhecido sindicato da pistolagem. Os membros dessa organização costumam agir dos dois lados (Brasil e Paraguai). A metodologia do crime obedece aos padrões do sindicato, ou seja: se a vítima for brasileira, o corpo é deixado no Paraguai e vice-versa. O depoimento de Maurício foi tomado durante toda a sexta-feira 10. Ele negou qualquer envolvimento com o crime. A PF está certa da participação de mais pessoas na execução. O ex-sargento, antes de ser preso, deixou um homem na rodoviária de Ponta Porã. A polícia divulgou também o retrato falado do homem que, segundo testemunhas, teria rondado o Hotel Beira-Rio, em Várzea Grande, onde o juiz estava hospedado. De acordo com a descrição, o homem identificado pela polícia seria Pedro da Silva Pinheiro.

On September 7, the judge’s body was found, burned to ashes, along a dirt road in Concepción in Paraguay, 350 km from the border with Mato Grosso do Sul. He had been executed with two bullets fired at point-blank range. One in the nape of the neck, the other in the ear. The judge was investigating a new, and explosive, charge: The possible involvement of state judges with the narcotraffic. A suspect in the killing of the judge, Marquest Niveiro, a former sergeant in the state military police, was arrested at a lunch counter in the Ponta Porã bus station on Thursday. Witnesses say the former policeman, arrested with 3.80 [sic] pistol, of Czech manufacture, was in Cerro Corá, where the judge’s car was found. Preliminary investigations indicate the former PM was part of a notorious syndicate of hitmen, whose members operate on both sides of the Brazil-Paraguay border. The methodology of the crime conforms to the pattern used by the syndicate. That is, if the victim is Brazilian, the body is left in Paraguay, and vice versa. Maurício gave a statement to police September 10. He denied any involvement. The federal police are certain that others took part in the execution. The former sergeant, before being arrested, left a man behind at the bus station in Ponta Porã. The police also issued a description of the man who, according to witnesses, had been hanging around the Hotel Beira-Rio, in Várzea Grande, where the judge was staying. According to the description, the man identified by police might be Pedro da Silva Pinheiro.

Might be?

Not a single sourcing statement in that paragraph.

Who says all this?

I am not sure what became of this supposed Tupi-Paraguayan hitman syndicate, with its patented and highly ingenious methodology: Dump the body in another jurisdiction.

They have been known to sue other hitman syndicates using the technique for patent infringement. It is their intellectual property, and they want royalties.

Eventually, however, a court employee and her Paraguayan uncle were convicted of the crime, the motive cited being a dispute over some sort of financial dealings with the judge. It is hard to get a firm grasp, reading contemporary news reports, on what the nature of these dealings were.

The Federal Police investigator in charge of the case said publicly he found no evidence of a murder for hire scheme.

The judge had sent charges against his fellow judges, and an audiotape, to the CPI of the Judiciary, a commission of inquiry in the Brazilian Senate set up at the request of Senator Magalhães of Bahia.

Veja magazine had reported on September 15, 1999:

Amaral era polémico. Denunciava nepotismo, mas empregava a mulher e a cunhada em seu gabinete. Sua briga com os desembargadores do Tribuna] de Justiça começou em 1990. quando denunciou que os colegas engordavam os salários usando uma malandragem chamada auxílio-combustível. Existia desembargador que alegava gastar em serviço mais de l 000 litros de gasolina por mês — e o posto fornecedor do combustível para o tribunal pertencia ao desembargador Flávio José Bertin. O STF investigou o caso, mas o processo foi arquivado. Amaral, no entanto, continuou sua cruzada. Em oito anos, protocolou onze denúncias contra os desembargadores. Viu na CPI do Judiciário uma oportunidade de chamar a atenção — e conseguiu. Reuniu todas as acusações e mandou um documento de onze páginas ao Senado. com uma fita cassete. Além da venda de sentenças e nepotismo, Amaral acusava os desembargadores de tráfico de influência, fraude em concursos públicos, desvio de dinheiro e corrupção. A fita trazia uma conversa de um desembargador com um homem, em que falavam sobre interesses sexuais em algumas funcionárias do tribunal. Amaral conseguiu só parte do que queria. Suas denúncias foram divulgadas, mas ninguém se interessou em investigá-las.

Amaral was controversial. He denounced nepotism, but employed his wife and sister-in-law in his office.

Controversial?

His battle with the senior judges of the state supreme court began in 1990, when he charged his colleagues were fattening their salaries using a scheme involving a fuel subsidy. There were judges who consumed more than 1,000 liters of gasoline per month — and the gas station that supplied the fuel belonged to Judge Flávio José Bertin.

Is that true, or just what he alleged?

The Supreme Court looked into the case, but dismissed it.

On what grounds?

Amaral, however, continued his crusade. In eight years, he filed more than 11 complaints against justices of the TJ. He saw the CPI of the Judiciary as a chance to get attention — and got it. He collected all the charges and sent an 11-pp. document to the Senate, with a cassette tape. Besides selling verdicts and nepotism, Amaral accused judges of influence-peddling, fraud in competitive examinations for public employment, embezzlement and corruption. The tape bears a conversation between a judge and a man about their sexual interest in some of the female employees of the court. Amaral got only part of what he wanted. His charges were publicized, but no one was interested in investigating them.

Why not?

Dias depois de denunciar os colegas à CPI do Judiciário, Amaral recebeu o troco. A Corregedoria do Tribunal de Justiça de Mato Grosso instaurou um processo disciplinar contra ele, para investigar a denúncia de que teria desviado para sua conta corrente recursos de depósitos Judiciais. Amaral, de novo, encaminhou documentos ao STJ reclamando da perseguição e das ameaças. Em uma representação que chegou ao STJ na quarta-feira da semana passada, quando já estava morto, o magistrado relatava que policiais cercavam seu condomínio, seguiam seu carro, intimidavam seus familiares e invadiram sua casa. Amaral vivia se escondendo, como se fosse um foragido. A cada dois dias dormia em um lugar, geralmente pequenos hotéis de Cuiabá. Apenas alguns familiares sabiam de sua localização.

After denouncing his colleagues to the Judiciary, Amaral got his in return. The discplinary board of the state supreme court started proceedings against him on charges of transferring funds deposited with the court into his personal checking account.

Veja seems to imply here that the disciplinary proceedings were retaliatory.

A press release from the state prosecutor’s office charged that he had stolen $2 million over five years.

Este montante, informado pelo corregedor geral do Tribunal de Justiça, desembargador Munir Feguri, foi levantado pela Corregedoria após correição em 2.500 processos que estavam sob a responsabilidade do juiz.  Os saques foram feitos através de centenas de alvarás de autorização expedidos pelo juiz Leopoldino do Amaral. Em praticamente todos, o juiz designava a oficial judiciária Márcia Conceição Campos, servidora da 10ª vara, para retirar o dinheiro no banco.

This sum, reported by the court’s inspector general, Judge Feguri, was derived from a review of 2,500 matter handled by Amaral. The withdrawals were made through hundreds of authorizations issued by Amaral. In nearly all cases, the judge designated an officer of the court, María Conceição Campos, who worked for the 10th Bar, to make the withdrawal.

Mas nenhum alvará de saque aparecia nos processos e somente foram descobertos após denúncia de um funcionário da vara. Benedito Lemes da Silva Neto, que trabalhava como office-boy do juiz, apresentou a denuncia ao Ministério Público Federal argumentando que estava sendo ameaçado de morte.

But none of these authorizations for withdrawals appeared in the case file, and were only discovered after a court employee denounced the practice. Benedito Lemes da Silva Neto, who worked for the judge as an “office boy,” made the charge to the federal prosecutor, claiming to be suffering death threats.

Does Veja know different?

On September 17, 1999, the Jornal do Commercio reported:

Ontem uma fita cassete entregue à PF revela que as denúncias por crime de peculato que pesam contra o juiz Leopoldino Marques do Amaral foram forjadas dentro do Fórum Cível de Cuiabá. O denunciante do juiz, Benedito Lemes da Silva Neto, office-boy de Amaral e autor das denúncias, confessa que foi pressionado a mentir.

Yesterday a cassette tape turned in to the federal police revealed that the charges of embezzlement against Amaral were forged in the Civil Forum of Cuiabá. His accuser, an office boy who had worked for him, confessed that he was pressured to lie.

Pressured by whom?

The statement is unsourced.

What ever became of those disciplinary proceedings?

Back to Veja, September 15, 1999:

Amaral once again complained to the federal courts of persecution and threats. In a complaint received last week, after his death, he said police were surrounding his condominium, following his car, intimidating his family members and invading his home. Amaral lived in hiding, like a fugitive. He slept in a new place every other night, generally in small hotels in Cuiabá. Only a few family members knew of his location.

Na noite de sexta-feira, a polícia acreditava estar perto da solução do crime, depois de prender o empresário Josino Guimarães, apontado no dossiê do juiz como “corretor de sentenças”. Josino, denunciado por um telefonema anônimo, é amigo do desembargador Odiles Freitas de Souza, atual vice-presidente do Tribunal Regional Eleitoral de Mato Grosso, dono do iate que explodiu com acetona, e alvo da investigação de Amaral.

Skipping ahead.

On Friday evening, the police believed they were close to solving the crime, after arresting businessman Josino Guimarães, pointed to in the judge’s dossier as a “broker of verdicts.” Josino, denounced by an anonymous caller, is a friend of Judge de Souza, currently vice-president of the state elections tribunal, owner of the yacht that exploded because it was full of acetone [allegedly used for cooking cocaine], and a target of Amaral’s investigations.

Not a sourcing statement in that passage. It tends to state the accusations of the judge as though they were accomplished facts.

Was Judge de Souza found to have owned boats used to transport cocaine and cocaine-cooking material? Was he in cahoots with the Cali cartel? As reported at some length by Veja?

Note that Veja reports the accusations as if they were facts. Judge de Souza is not the alleged owner of the narcoyacht. He is — present indicative — the owner of the (alleged exploding) narcoyacht.

The story is too juicy not to be true.

Did any of Amaral’s accusations actually stand up?

On September 30, 1999, the JC reported:

Ontem, o deputado estadual de Elarmin Miranda (PMDB-MT) denunciou à CPI do Judiciário o desembargador Ataíde Monteiro, do Tribunal de Justiça (TJ) do Estado, de ter exigido propina para decidir sobre uma causa. Miranda disse que ouviu o relato de um cliente que teria negociado diretamente com Monteiro o pagamento de R$ 70 mil, em duas parcelas, em troca da confirmação de uma liminar sobre demarcação de terras. A venda da decisão teria sido intermediada pelo empresário Josino Guimarães, que costuma se apresentar, segundo Miranda, como “assessor de desembargadores”.

Yesterday, state deputy Elarmin Mirando (PMDB) charged Judge Ataíde Monteiro, of the state supreme court, of having demanded a bribe to rule on a case. Miranda said he heard this from a client who said they had directly negotiated a payment of R$70,000, in two installments, in return for an injunction in a land dispute. The deal was supposedly brokered by Josino Guimarães, who often presented himself, according to Miranda, as “an advisor to senior judges.”

What ever became of that accusation?

In March 2006, Amaral’s family had his remains exhumed and subjected to DNA testing to confirm they really were his remains.

They were, according to that report.

The former court employee convicted of killing him, along with her taxi driver uncle, claimed he was still alive and living in Argentina.

The state judicial police of Mato Grosso then reported on its Web site, citing the A Gazeta newspaper:

A versão de que o juiz estaria vivo partiu da ex-escrevente Beatriz Árias, condenado pelo assassinato do magistrado a 12 anos de prisão. Ela afirmou no dia 8 de fevereiro ao juiz da 7ª Vara que Leopoldino estava vivo e morava na Argentina após passar por cirurgia plástica. Por 37 dias a versão mentirosa de Beatriz fez com que Justiça colocasse em dúvidas três exames de DNA realizados na época pela Unicamp.

The version that the judge might be alive came from Beatriz Árias, sentenced to 12 years in the magistrate’s murder. She told a judge on February 8 that Leopoldino was alive and living in Argentina after undergoing plastic surgery. For 37 days, her mendacious statement caused the court to place doubt on the results of three DNA

Beatriz Árias Paniáguas, a court employee.

The Federal Police investigator on the case, José Pinto de Luna — now the state agent in charge in Alagoas, and therefore heading the raid on the State Legislative Assembly there discarded the theory that the killing was murder for hire.

In an interview with MediaNews in January of 2000, he said,

Beatriz inventou muitas coisas. Primeiro ela falou que era um tal de Gaúcho que matou o juiz, depois foi Fernando, depois foi uma Pick Up que seguiu o carro deles até o Paraguai, e depois falou que tinham sido interceptados por uma camioneta, que os integrantes haviam matado o juiz, e que inclusive um dos elementos havia mostrado a foto da filha dela, ameaçando-a. Como vou acreditar agora na Beatriz. Ela negou a arma, três dias depois encontramos a arma. Foi confirmado pelo parente do seu marido que ela havia pego a arma emprestada. A mesma arma que matou o juiz, o exame de balística confirma. Os pertences do Dr. Leopoldino foram encontrados na casa de uma amiga de Beatriz, no Paraguai. Isso é normal, dela tentar dizer coisas para confundir a sociedade e as autoridades judiciais com esses artifícios.

Beatriz invented a lot of things. First she said it was someone called The Gaucho who killed the judge, then it was Fernando, then it was a pick-up truck that followed their car to Paraguay, then she said she had been intercepted by a small truck, that the passengers of that truck had killed the judge, and even that one of the men had shown her a photo of her daughter, threatening her. How am I going to believe Beatriz now? She denied the gun, three days later we found the gun. A relative of her husband confirmed she asked for the loan of the weapon. The same weapon that killed the judge, as the ballistics test shows. The judge’s possessions were found in the house of a friend of Beatriz’s, in Paraguay. This is normal, for her to say things to confuse society and the authorities with these inventions.

In February 2006, federal attorney moved to quash charges against four of the judges and a state lawmaker for ordering the killing, given the results of the trial of Paniáguas. The note is from the Diário de Cuibabá, via AchaNoticias.

O subprocurador geral da República, Francisco Dias Teixeira, pediu o arquivamento da notícia-crime que acusa quatro desembargadores do Tribunal de Justiça de Mato Grosso de serem mandantes da morte do juiz Leopoldino Marques do Amaral.

Assistant federal attorney Dias asked for the charges to be dropped against the four senior judges of the TJ in Mato Grosso, according to which they ordered the killing of Amaral.

O denunciante acusava os magistrados e o parlamentar de compactuarem com o suposto chefe do crime organizado no Estado, o bicheiro João Arcanjo Ribeiro, informação denunciada por Leopoldino Marques do Amaral.

The accusations was that the magistrates and the lawmaker conspired with the alleged head of organized crime in the state, the bicho banker [numbers racketeer] João Arcanjo Ribeiro, as Amaral had charged.

On Arcanjo — the former state judicial policeman turned commodities factor was later given the honorary title of “commander” by the state legislature for his contributions to the business community — see also

A medida, tomada na quarta-feira, teve como base o fato de já haver uma ação penal em curso contra os supostos responsáveis pelo crime, a ex-escrevente Beatriz Árias, seu tio Marcos Peralta, ambos condenados, e o lobista Josino Guimarães, que aguarda julgamento, aberta pelo Ministério Público Federal em Mato Grosso.

The request to drop the charges was based on the criminal case in process against Beatriz Árias, her uncle Marcos Peralta — both of whom were found guilty — and the lobbyist Josino Guimarães, who is awaiting trial …

Still awaiting trial.

To sum up: Tales of Paraguayan hitman syndicates may have been wildly exaggerated.

Brazilian newspapers, magazines and TV news programs will often publish just anything, without attributing it to a source that can be verified. Especially if it has bleeding corpses, child-fucking or other outrages.

I am not able to quickly google up the results of the federal investigation into allegations of corruption at the state supreme court in Mato Grosso, but apparently the judges targeted are still on the bench.

I am still looking for the original complaint against Globo in this case.

The award was lower than the R$1.62 million asked for, and awarded by the court of first instance.

What court was that?

Where can I go read the original complaint?

Moral of the story: You can waste a lot of time googling to try to find out more information about an issue, and failing to find any.

Google is not a perfect map of the current state of human knowledge. For one thing, it contains the Brazilian news media, for example. To which the GIGO principle applies. Boil before consuming.

Which means if you really want to know, you may just have to get off your butt, fly to Cuiabá, and poke around in the archives.

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