The arrest of a businessman following operations by the Federal Police and the Civil Police in Pernambuco raised fears across the state because of the potential to target local political groups.
Sebastião Figueiroa de Siqueira, who has been detained since the 1st, is known for owning companies that have signed contracts with city halls and the state, as well as having printing companies that produce electoral campaign materials and which have also come under the radar of investigators.
The arrest could lead to a turning point in a series of ongoing investigations, according to members of the PF and Civil Police.
Figueiroa’s printing company, Unipauta, was the 13th that received the most resources during the 2022 electoral campaign — more than R$12.3 million, according to data from the Electoral Court. The campaign of former president Jair Bolsonaro (PL), former minister Gilson Machado for the Senate and the state directory of União Brasil in Pernambuco were the three biggest clients.
In addition to Sebastião Figueiroa, the Pernambuco Court ordered the arrest of the ex-wife of businessman Sandra Mendonça, a partner in one of his printing companies, his brother, José Roberto Figueiroa de Siqueira, and his children, Suellen Figueiroa de Melo and Davidson Mendonça Figueiroa, in a siege of the group.
The arrest is related to alleged irregularities at Detran from 2016 to 2020, during the administration of former governor Paulo Câmara, at the time of the PSB. The suspicion is that R$64 million was diverted from Detran via bidding fraud.
According to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the fraud involved a network of people and companies, some of them front, to charge up to 2,425%. The companies that competed for Detran tenders previously agreed on the values that would be charged, according to the MP-PE. An audit by the State Court of Auditors was used as a basis by the Public Ministry.
The police seized several cell phones in the operation, called “Brucia la Terra”. Sebastião Figueiroa’s device was not delivered by him, but found by the police in his wife’s bag.
The report learned from investigators, subject to reservation, that, in total, in the 24 searches and seizures, more than R$1 million in cash was seized. The police also collected jewelry, works of art and designer bags.
The business group is made up of at least ten partners and several companies that operate in the areas of graphic services, civil construction and earthmoving and the sale of medical materials. The investigations uncover suspicions of shell companies and orange partners in the composition of the staff.
The preventive detention was carried out at the request of the Public Ministry, which understood that the suspected group was committing crimes repeatedly and that the freedom of the members could create risks for the economic order.
The fear of part of the state’s political class is that, if the arrest and eventual conviction in court are not reversed, the investigations could have potentially explosive developments for politicians whose administrations signed contracts with the group’s companies.
Although he has already been the target of six operations by the Federal Police and others by the Civil Police, the businessman had only been subject to search actions. So far, Figueiroa has not been denounced in federal investigations.
At the beginning of November, a preliminary court decision determined that companies linked to the group were prevented from negotiating with public authorities.
In 2020, Recife City Hall was the target of eight operations by the Federal Police for alleged irregularities in purchases to combat the Covid pandemic under the administration of then mayor Geraldo Julio (PSB). Of these, four targeted Sebastião Figueiroa’s group.
Geraldo Julio, at the time, said that during the pandemic there was an “infinity of hirings in a very short period of time” in which there may have been mistakes, but, he stated, without fraud “or bad faith on the part of any manager”.
Since 2017, Sebastião Figueiroa or his companies have been the target of seven PF operations: Casa de Papel, Antídoto, Coffee Break, Articulata —all four in 2020—, Contrassenso (2021), Payback and Literatus —in 2022.
At Casa de Papel, the target was the AJS printing company. The operation aims to investigate irregularities in the emergency purchase of medical materials amid the pandemic. The contracts were signed with the municipalities of Recife, Cabo de Santo Agostinho, Olinda, Paulista and Jaboatão dos Guararapes.
Figueiroa’s arrest was requested by the Federal Public Ministry, but the Court denied it, in February 2021, at Casa de Papel.
Operation Coffee Break investigates purchases in the Legislative Assembly of Pernambuco through Figueiroa’s companies, which would be favored in the House’s payments sector and by a server who worked on the auctioneers’ committee. These contracts total almost R$40 million.
Operation Articulata revealed relationships with the former secretary of Strategic Projects of Pernambuco, Renato Thiebaut, also from the Paulo Câmara administration. The alleged benefits would include payment of rent for the property where the then secretary lived and renovations to beach houses without compensation, according to investigators.
Operation Literatus investigates an alleged scheme to divert federal public resources through overpricing in the sale of books and school kits to the Pernambuco cities of Aliança, Jaboatão dos Guararapes, Recife, Paulista and Surubim.
MPF prosecutors consulted with reservation by the report say that, with the arrest, investigations can accelerate and advance on other fronts, including the possibility of new precautionary measures and operations.
The defense of Sebastião Figueiroa, his children and his ex-wife said that the five accused are innocent and that the arrests are unreasonable.
Lawyer Eduardo Trindade stated that he asked the judge in the case to revoke the arrest based on a decision by the State Court of Auditors that did not condemn the businessman to reimburse the public coffers for overpricing.
“The methodology applied by the audit [dos técnicos do TCE-PE] was mistaken, according to the ruling and the view of the three counselors [que julgaram] at the Court of Auditors”, he states.
“They are all innocent. Figueiroa was the target of other PF operations and so far has not been charged by the MPF.”
The report was unable to contact Renato Thiebaut’s defense team or the former secretary.