On March 17, 2014, the Brazilian Federal Police launched the so-called Operation Car Wash, a probe into a money-laundering scheme working out of a gas station less than 1 kilometer from the seat of Brazil’s Congress. Twenty-eight people were arrested at first, and another 19 were forcibly taken in to provide statements in an effort spread across 17 cities and 7 states.
What seemed like a banal investigation into little-known (at least to the public) crooks became one of the biggest anti-corruption investigations in history. For the last five years, Brazilians have grown accustomed to waking up and following the latest flashy, high-profile round of arrests on the morning news. There have been 258 of them—including some of Brazil’s wealthiest businessmen, a powerful former House Speaker, and the most popular politician in the country’s democratic history.