Organizational Crime and Systemic Corruption in Brazil

The biggest investigation in Brazil’s history “Operation Car Wash” revealed the long-standing corrupt interplay and interaction between the private and public sectors. Criminological studies about corporate crimes and corruption usually grapple with the idea of “bad apples” and the complementary role of “rotten barrels.” Corrupt behavior is often attributed to individual characteristics, such as greed for personal gain, lack of self-control, and deviant personality traits. In regards to the phenomenon in Brazil, many studies in Latin American and Brazilian literature approach the issue from a cultural perspective, suggesting that systemic corruption is based on historical-cultural events and macro-institutional factors.

International studies about active corruption, nonetheless, indicate that most of the bribe givers are high-ranked, well-educated, and well-paid managers. They commit crime at high personal risks but are not primarily motivated by the greed for personal enrichment. Until the crime is revealed, the illegal actions could be understood as useful to the organization.

The purpose of this research — led by the theoretical and methodological design of this project – is not to exonerate those who have perpetuated such organizational actions—especially where an actual crime has been committed—but rather to explain how it took place and why it may be difficult for organizations to prevent this type of deviance.

From a criminal law perspective, it is relevant to understand if law infringement and the usefulness of the conduct might be an indicator that traditional, normative concepts and frameworks are outdated in its attempt to prevent corporate crime and illegal campaign financing. A contemptuous attitude of corporations and political organizations (political parties) towards law and its source - as hypertrophic and impractical rules or as legitimate protection of market fundamentals – could indicate the need for reevaluation of legislation and corporate governance framework as well as clarify the challenges to regulative sectors within organizations.

Research design
Our purpose is to identify and explain the emerged pattern of corporate crime and political corruption in Brazil. For this aim, official records, such as closed criminal trials produced by current and past corruption cases, as well as by illegal electoral financing in Brazil will be studied. Using a multi-level framework of institutional analysis, and a combination between quantitative and qualitative methods, we map key changes in the institutional setting of Brazil’s justice system, relating them to organizational forms of corruption on companies and political parties, as well as the mindsets of the perpetrators.

General questions
By analyzing current and past corruption cases, the research project aims to find out:
(1) how the system of economic and political corruption operate?
(2) how effective the institutional and organizational changes have been to fight corruption and organizational crime?
(3) which role is the law enforcement and anti-corruption regime playing within the changes of corruption patterns rooted on the level of political and economic organizations, as well as of the collective mindsets?

International Partners
Prof. Dr. Wagner Pralon Mancuso, Universidade de São Paulo (USP), São Paulo, Brazil
Prof. Dr. Bruno Wilhelm Speck, Universidade de São Paulo (USP), São Paulo, Brazil
Prof. Dr. Paulo Roberto Neves Costa, Universidade Federal do Paraná (UFPR), Curitiba, Brazil
Professor Dr. Rodrigo Rossi Horochovski, Universidade Federal do Paraná (UFPR), Brazil
Professor Dr. Conrado Hübner Mendes, University of Sao Paulo (USP), Brazil
Professor Dr. Vanessa Elias de Oliveira, Federal University of ABC (UFABC), Brazil
Fabiana Alves Rodrigues, Federal Judge from Sao Paulo, Graduate Program in Political Science, University of São Paulo (USP), Brazil


Presentation and discussion of the project results within the public online seminar “Corporate Crime and Systemic Corruption in Brazil” which was organized by the Institute of Advanced Studies of the University of São Paulo on Monday 14 and Tuesday 15 February 2022. The seminar was livestreamed and translated into English and Portuguese. Find the complete programme here.