Christmas Pardon in Brazil Sparks Anger Rather Than Goodwill

(Bloomberg) -- A wide-ranging pardon for prisoners decreed by Brazil’s President Michel Temer was a traditional humanitarian gesture and not an attempt to limit anti-corruption efforts, the justice ministry wrote in a statement on Friday.

The comments follow Thursday’s decision by Supreme Court President Carmen Lucia to partially suspend the pardon, pending a ruling by the full court. The justice ministry wrote that it would obey Lucia’s injunction but it noted that the move "blocks thousands of those convicted of crimes without serious threat or violence to the person from benefiting from the pardon, at variance with our tradition."

At Christmas time Brazilian presidents decree that certain types of non-violent prisoners who have served part of their sentences should be eligible for pardon. Temer’s edict, however, raised eyebrows both for its particularly generous terms and for the fact it was issued amid the country’s worst-ever corruption scandal by a president who himself faced criminal charges. Temer expanded his pardon to include prisoners with longer sentences. He also reduced the amount of time they needed to spend behind bars to become eligible.

The decree didn’t specify how many prisoners might be eligible for the pardon. On Wednesday the public prosecutor’s office requested an immediate suspension of the decree, arguing it could undermine the Carwash corruption probe that has rocked the country’s establishment for years.

Though the pardon is well within the scope of the president’s powers, it raises further questions about Temer’s ethical behavior, according to Maira Zapater, a professor of penal law at the FGV business school.

"The problem is that we have someone in the presidency under suspicion for the slipperiness of his conduct," she said.

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