Country/area: Brazil

Organisation: The Intercept Brasil

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 25 Nov 2020

Credit: Cecilia Olliveira

Project description:

Documents obtained exclusively show that Taurus, one of the largest arms producers in Latin America, “sneaked” modified weapons sold to Brazilian police forces. The defects caused by the changes caused several accidents and even deaths. Army classified document and an action by the Public Prosecutor of Paraíba and the Justice of Goiás show that the company was not punished for defects and continues to operate. One of the president’s sons, Eduardo Bolsonaro, is a federal policeman, knew of the flaws, and did nothing, despite saying he advocates for the cops cause.

Impact reached:

Taurus weapons have been failing for decades, but only now are classified documents showing the failures and their consequences. But due to the legislation on controlled products, which prohibits the importation of weapons without the authorization of the Army, the Brazilian military and police are obliged to buy weapons from Taurus, which makes them “captive” customers of the company.

It is not possible to know the total number of people who sue the company, as it has made individual agreements, with confidentiality clauses, preventing people from giving interviews and talking about the subject.

The actions are confidential and this prevents victims from having access to each other’s reports. This precludes jurisprudence. But with the publication of the reports, the victims can better serve themselves in their defenses against the company.

Furthermore, the President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, was elected campaigning for more weapons. Since he took office, he has been changing the law to meet his goals.

The Armed Forces, of which Bolsonaro is a part, tried to work to improve the sector’s oversight – its responsibility. In early 2020, the Army published rules to improve enforcement, but Bolsonaro revoked these ordinances. The general who signed the measures was exonerated and left office defending the measures. The Army later admitted that it repealed rules under pressure from the government and social media. Now, prosecutors are investigating Bolsonaro’s decision, which goes against what is defended by control bodies, and calls for the restoration of ordinances.

In this way, Bolsonaro’s decision to put more weapons on the streets will also spread arms problems. These reports will be important for more people.

Techniques/technologies used:

To do this article I used traditional methods of investigation as part of work. I contacted military sources, former ministers and legislators specializing in armaments and analyzed about 5,000 pages of documents.

These documents were sent to me in confidence by 3 different sources.

What was the hardest part of this project?

The most difficult part of this work was getting people to comment on the subject. Taurus is a very powerful company, which finances several elected politicians and has a strong lobby in the ministries of defense and public security. I tried to contact 3 different ministers, explained the serious complaint, and none of them agreed to speak on the record.

Since the company has been making deals with people who sue them and establishing confidentiality, I have lost many of my sources.

The armaments sector in Brazil is not transparent and there is little public information on enforcement and processes.

So, my challenge was to seek, over the course of four years, new sources that would help me prove what everyone suspected: that the company changed weapons models previously approved by the army and that this caused deaths and damage.

As Jair Bolsonaro and his allied base’s mission is to increase the supply of weapons to the population, it is necessary to show that these weapons already have a factory defect – a deadly one. And whoever should oversee this sector – the army – does not. Politicians who should change the legislation to reinforce punishment, are elected with campaigns financed by the lobby of this company.

What can others learn from this project?

As the arms sector in Brazil is not transparent and there is little public information about enforcement and prosecutions, journalists need to be extremely persistent.

People are afraid to speak. A lot of time needs to be devoted to cultivating sources and building trust.

Despite these difficulties, the arms and ammunition sector is today central to the Bolsonaro government. Journalists need to be aware and not give up.

That is why it is also important that journalists publish full documents whenever possible, so that other colleagues can build their stories.

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