The secret video tapes could not be more damning. A newspaper owner shoves 30,000 reals (£10,000) in cash into his underpants. A state deputy stuffs a thick wad into her handbag. A press secretary and a Cabinet chief dump bricks of money into a hold-all.
Even corruption-hardened Brazilians have been shocked by the spectacle of their greedy leaders, capped by footage of the governor of the capital city pocketing an envelope said to contain R$50,000.
José Roberto Arruda, the Governor of Brasilia, says that it is a misunderstanding but the dialogue accompanying the video seems convincing: “Let me pay before I forget,” says Durval Barbosa, Mr Arruda’s former secretary for institutional affairs. “Great,” the governor replies. “Give me a hamper.”
The footage, now entertaining millions of Brazilians courtesy of television stations, was recorded secretly by Mr Barbosa, who has agreed to co-operate with a police investigation codenamed Operation Pandora.
Mr Barbosa says that he ran a corruption network for the governor involving construction, information and telecommunications companies with state contracts paying bribes. Police say that the syndicate distributed some R$600,000 a month.
Mr Arruda’s retort that he is innocent — and used the money to buy cakes for the poor — has provoked much hilarity and spawned a protest movement. The cakes, a Brazilian version of the panettone, have become the iconic image of anti-corruption demonstrators.
The day that the scandal broke, Mr Arruda issued official tenders for 120,000 panettone. Stunned by the governor’s brazenness, 200 protesters from the Arruda Out student movement broke into the state parliament wearing red noses, blowing whistles, and waving panettone.
The man stuffing money into his underpants is Alcyr Collaço, owner of the newspaper Tribuna do Brasil. Other videos show the press secretary, Omézio Pontes, and Mr Arruda’s former Cabinet chief Domingos Lamoglia counting cash into a bag. The woman putting money in her handbag is Erudes Brito, leader of Mr Arruda’s regional government.
Demonstrators stepped aside briefly to allow six impeachment procedures against Mr Arruda and his vice-governor, Paulo Octávio, to begin. They are being brought by the ruling Workers’ Party and the Brazilian Lawyers’ Association among others. The web of corruption is said to spread across a number of several ruling parties and is alleged to involve the Education Secretary, José Luiz Valente, the Health Secretary, Augusto Carvalho, and the Cabinet chief, Fábio Simão, besides others.
Mr Arruda blames political enemies. He says that Mr Barbosa “plotted, in a capricious and premeditated manner, a false version of the facts to try and tarnish the serious and successful work done by our Government.”
In an official statement the governor said: “Our lawyers are analysing in detail the recordings to present our position ... we will collaborate with everything necessary in the investigations of the Public Federal Ministry and the Superior Justice Tribunal.”
But the tide is turning against Mr Arruda. His own Democratic Party looks likely to expel him on December 10. President Lula da Silva, in Ukraine, initially said that the video recordings did not prove anything but then changed his tune and called them deplorable.
Arruda Out activists say that they are part of a growing student movement that wants to clean up an increasingly powerful Brazil as the country’s economy continues to grow. They claim 30,000 protesters on their website. “The country is growing a lot, it’s becoming strong in the world, and we have to stop this corruption happening,” said Levy Brandão, a 25-year-old student of publicity and editor of the O Universitário newspaper.
“Brazil is being embarrassed,” Mr Brandão said. “We want to improve the ethics of our country.”
Watch the Governor of the Brazil's Capital Receiving Bribe
Watch the Governor's Reaction Towards Demonstrations