'The accidental Trojan horse: Plea bargaining as an anticorruption tool in Brazil', by Fausto de Assis Ribeiro

ISS Working Paper No. 627

Jos Mooij Research Paper Award winner for the academic year 2015-2016

From the Evaluation Committee, consisting of Dr. Helen Hintjens, Dr. Rosalba Icaza from ISS, and Dr. Jan Fransen from IHS:

“In the opinion of the members of the Committee, Mr. de Assis Ribeiro paper is an amazingly thorough, economical and mature study that deserved commendation for being the first of its kind to try and reconstruct how the impossible actually came about. The researcher managed to weave evidence from the official records together with interview material in order to analytically reconstruct an ‘accidental’ policy measure that seems to overcome some of the sclerosis of the existing justice system for anti-corruption purposes. […]

The central question of the RP was quite fascinating – why would Brazilian lawmakers accept plea-bargaining that might harm them in the end? The answer to this intriguing question is explored in this well researched and well-crafted paper.

Based on an extensive series of interviews with difficult to access and reticent key decision makers, participants and observers, this paper brings to life the policy processes which enabled Brazil’s federal investigative judges and prosecutors to conduct the nation’s biggest corruption investigation—Lava Jato—and potentially transform government and governance in Brazil.”


This paper employs the Advocacy Coalition Framework (ACF) as a model to understand the legislative process that led to the implementation of plea bargaining as an anticorruption tool in Brazil. Through the analysis of primary qualitative data, it assesses the political and social forces that formed a coalition and propelled this legislative process forward, thus allowing the posterior emergence of the largest anticorruption judicial action in the history of Brazil. In doing so, it elucidates the reasons that led a systemically corrupt legislative to enact a remarkably effective anticorruption policy, often to the detriment of lawmakers themselves. This paper’s contribution to the literature about the anticorruption framework in Brazil lies in its critical interpretation of the interplay of political forces involved in the early stages of policy formulation. It adds empirical elements to a modern institutional approach to the study of corruption, which derives from classical theories about the formation of Brazilian society. Finally, the paper serves as an illustration of the difficulties inherent to applying the ACF in dysfunctional contexts, such as those marked by systemic corruption.

Plea bargaining, corruption, Lava Jato, Advocacy Coalition Framework.

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About the author

Fausto Ribeiro received his MA in Development Studies at the ISS in 2016, with double distinction. He obtained his law degree from the University of Sao Paulo with a dissertation about the UN’s (lack of) reaction to the genocide in Rwanda. He is also a member of the Brazilian Foreign Service, having served in Brasilia, Amman, Geneva and Nouakchott.