The investigative journalism project “Rachadinha Anatomy” showed, for the first time, strong evidence of corruption in the cabinet of the then federal deputy Jair Bolsonaro – who is currently the president of Brazil. “Rachadinha” is the name given in Brazil to the illegal share of the salaries of public servants with the politicians who employed them. Before this journalistic investigation, there was only evidence of “rachadinha” in the cabinet of one of the president’s sons, Flávio Bolsonaro, when he was a state deputy in Rio de Janeiro. The scoops arose from the analysis of more than 600,000 confidential banking transactions.
The work had great impact in Brazil for showing, for the first time, that the “rachadinha” illegal scheme did not only happen in the cabinet of one of the president’s sons, but also in Jair Bolsonaro’s own cabinet, when he was a federal deputy (1991-2018).
Our starting point was a state investigation about Flavio Bolsonaro, which ended up gathering more than 600,000 confidencial banking transactions, most of them from public servants who once worked at the cabinet of the president’s son. Once the Bolsonaro family used to exchange public employees among themselves, it was possible that the data could include banking transactions of Jair Bolsonaro’s employees in the Chamber of Deputies.
Despite having been gathered by a state investigation, the data could have been used by Brazilian authorities to investigate Jair Bolsonaro, once it was aimed at an investigation about someone else – one of Bolsonaro’s sons.
UOL then decided to conduct its own investigation based on these same data, considering its public relevance and the national interest on it. Therefore, the facts that implicate the president of Brazil in the “rachadinha” scheme were revealed exclusively by UOL.
If it were not for UOL’s investigation, strong evidence that implicates the president of Brazil in crimes of corruption would simply have been discarded by the authorities, and would not have been known by society.
In September 2020, UOL obtained from its sources the confidential banking transactions gathered by the state investigation into Flavio Bolsonaro. The data add up to 607,552 banking operations.
First, the data were organized in an SQL database, where operations were performed to verify the consistency of the data. During this step, we could, for example, identify duplicate records and eliminate them. So we started to meticulously analyse the data – in the SQL database and also in Google spreadsheets.
The UOL data team has created some methodologies to work with the data. For example, we wanted to know how much of the salaries paid by the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies were withdrawn in cash by Jair Bolsonaro’s employees – the withdrawal of large percentages of salaries were previously proven to be a money laundering strategy. To do that, we developed a calculation to exclude withdrawals that may be related to other sources of income.
At the same time, the UOL investigative team also carried out an investigation outside the data. We looked for information that could add layers to the evidence we found in the data. In doing so, we could find out that some of Jair Bolsonaro’s employees were, in fact, ghost employees, having never actually worked for the Chamber of Deputies. One of them, for example, used to work within the Legislative Assembly of Rio, promoting the political work of the state deputy Flávio Bolsonaro, not Jair Bolsonaro.
After completing the data analysis and the field investigation, we then organized the scoops into an infographic video, to facilitate the understanding of the findings by the public and facilitate the dissemination of the content. So far, the video has had around 400,000 views.
What was the hardest part of this project?
The most challenging part of the project was ensuring there we did not commit any error in the interpretation of the banking information and that we were not leaving any loose ends behind. We were working with raw data of enormous national interest. There could be absolutely no mistake and no unfilled gap. For this, it was essential to conduct meticulous data analysis and combine it with traditional investigation. Indeed, the president nor the federal government could not contest any of the information we revealed, which proves the excellence and the depth of the investigative work that was done by UOL.
What can others learn from this project?
“Rachadinha Anatomy ” shows the importance of journalism investigations, even in the face of public investigations. The confidential banking transactions related to Jair Bolsonaro’s employees in the Chamber of Deputy were first obtained by a public investigation in Brazil, but the scoops that arose from the analysis of these same data could not be made by the official investigative bodies, as previously pointed out. They could only investigate facts that were related to one of Jair Bolsonaro’s sons, not to Jair Bolsonaro himself.
The project also demonstrates the importance of in-depth investigations. The work took six months of work – it started in September 2020 and was published in March 2021.
In addition, “Rachadinha Anatomy” is the result of a continuous investigative effort of UOL about “rachadinha”. Prior to this investigative series, the team published its first two reports on the case, in September 2020. And we also continued to investigate the topic after the publication, releasing more stories and a narrative podcast in July 2021.