Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Brazil woman got longer jail term for Easter egg theft than corruption culprits

Even for a country numbed by injustice and inequality, Brazil has been shocked by revelations that a poor mother who stole an Easter egg for her children was condemned to a harsher jail sentence than corporate executives and politicians who cheated the public of millions of dollars.
The woman – who is referred to only by her first name, Maria – was sentenced to three years, two months and three days in prison for shoplifting a chocolate egg and a chicken breast from a supermarket in Matão, São Paulo in 2015, according to local media.
She was kept in detention for five months before her trial, then found guilty of a first-degree crime. Although she was briefly remanded during her appeal, a second judge sent her to prison pregnant in November 2016. She has since given birth – to her fourth child – behind bars, and is now nursing her baby son in a overcrowded cell. Once the child is six months, it will be taken from her care.
The case is far from unusual, but it has drawn public attention because of an appeal by a legal ombudsman and a newspaper article that drew damning comparisons with the laxer punishments handed down to those convicted of far greater crimes in the Lava Jato (Car Wash) case, a sprawling corruption investigation which has implicated a string of major figures in Brazilian politics and business.
The ombudsman, Maíra Cora Diniz, said the penalty for Maria was “absurdly” disproportionate to the crime, which did not involve violence, damage or social disturbance. The public defender also noted that the sentence would also punish the baby, which would be wrenched from its mother at a point when it still needed breastfeeding.
Commenting on this case in the the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper, columnist Mônica Bergamo contrasted this to the penalties given to those convicted in the Lava Jato investigation, which uncovered a vast network of bribes and kickbacks from public contracts that were channelled through major corporations, including Petrobras and Odebrecht, to the major political parties and secret accounts held by dozens of senior politicians.
At least seven of those found guilty of such crimes – which defrauded taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars – have received lighter sentences than Maria because they have cut deals with prosecutors or their lawyers have cited extenuating family or health circumstances. Several have been released. Others have been put under house arrest, where they can live in relative luxury.
Several other newspapers have picked up on the story as have many social network commentators. One typical post on the Extra news website sarcastically called for applause for the Brazilian justice system because “if you steal millions or billions, almost nothing will happen to you.”

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