Policy Briefs on Lava Jato


Lava Jato or Operation Car Wash refers to Latin America’s largest known corruption scheme in living memory. Related events began unfolding in Brazil in March of 2014. Construction companies were colluding with employees of Brazil’s state-owned oil company to win public works contracts. The oil company’s employees took bribes, while politicians obtained kickbacks as personal gifts or campaign donations.

The relevant scholarship had warned that corruption could result in public works being constructed at inflated costs. However, such warnings were ignored, and so the people involved in the scheme managed to steal billions in state funds. Prosecutors further revealed that bribes paid by the region’s largest construction group extended to eleven other countries besides Brazil.

In spite of the continued interest among policy practitioners and academics, there are key questions about Lava Jato that remain unanswered. For instance, how did the construction company that led the corruption scheme choose the countries in which to do business? According to the international press, the scheme played a role in the 2014 World Cup, but was corruption also at work in the planning and execution of the 2016 Rio Olympics? Also, what is motivating some of the key actors fighting corruption in Brazil, and what can be done to avoid similar corruption scandals in the future?

To answer these and related questions, the Center on Global Economic Governance (CGEG) at Columbia University’s School of International & Public Affairs collected a series of policy briefs on Lava Jato-related themes. This project was cosponsored by the Center for Development Economics and Policy (CDEP)Columbia Global Center in Rio, and the Latin America Initiative at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy with the goal of shedding light on a complex problem that has affected the lives of millions.

The project covered a range of topics such as urban planning legacies and public corruption, corruption in public procurement, media coverage, and the role of accountability institutions in corruption control and included interviews with public officials in Brazil. Currently, the collection of policy briefs are being updated, and additional essays have been commissioned. We plan to make this material available in the near future as a coedited volume. Thank you for your continued interest in our project on Lava Jato.


The views expressed in Policy Briefs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Center on Global Economic Governance, Columbia University, or the project's cosponsors.