Prosecutor Frederico Paiva recalled how badly he was sweating, his shirt soaked even though the air conditioner in the chambers was going full bore. He and his partner, Marlon Cajado, were pleading with a judge to extend wiretaps that had helped the duo uncover a scheme they determined had robbed Brazil of as much as $10 billion in dodged taxes.
No luck. Paiva emerged hardly able to take it in. Operation Zealots, the case he’d bet his career on, was going sideways. Cajado, a federal police officer, tried to console him, in a way. “Look, it’s no use,” Paiva recalled him saying. In Brazil, “things don’t change.”
The setback in 2014 marked the start of a typical limp to the finish for a graft investigation in the country, where Zealots is one of at least 19 major inquiries unfolding in the shadow of the celebrated Operation Carwash. Most have more colorful names — Operation Sea of Mud, Operation False Address, Operation Periodic Table — but if history’s a guide, none will come close to matching the probe that has snared members of the elite, including a former president and the onetime head of Latin America’s largest independent investment bank.