Leader of Brazil’s Nuclear Program Given 43 Year Prison Sentence

Brazilian Judge Marcelo da Costa Bretas Thursday issued a preposterous 43-year prison sentence against Vice Admiral Othon Luiz Pinheiro da Silva, the 76-year-old military scientist who initiated and oversaw the development of Brazil’s cutting-edge scientific and technological nuclear programs since the late 1970’s.

Adm. Pinheiro was serving as Executive Director of the state nuclear company, Eletronuclear, when first arrested in July 2015, on charges stemming from the 16th phase of the British-Obama “Lava Jato” bankers’ attack on the Brazilian nation, called “Operation Radioactivity,” because it was directed at the nuclear industry. While others of the accused capitulated to the judicial witchhunt, the admiral denied the charges and refused to accept a plea bargain.

In two years, “Lava Jato” has driven Brazil’s legitimate president out of office, paralyzed and nearly bankrupted the national oil company (Petrobras) and every significant private construction and engineering company in the country, and jailed many of its top leaders, civilian and military alike, on the pretext of “fighting corruption.” But the sentence against Admiral Othon is decades longer than any yet meted out against the victims of Lava Jato. And his daughter, who worked with him in the nuclear industry, was given a 14 year, 10 month jail sentence on the same alleged “corruption charges.”

By all accounts, Adm. Pinheiro was one of Brazil’s most creative and audacious leaders of the past four decades. In 1974, at age 35 and a captain in the Navy, he asked his superiors to send him to MIT to study nuclear engineering, a field in which he had no prior background. Brazil began constructing its first nuclear plant in 1972, but it was subjected to Anglo-American attacks and obstruction of its nuclear industry from the outset. When Pinheiro returned from his studies in 1979, he became known as “the crazy one,” for his championing the need for Brazil to master the full nuclear-fuel cycle, and develop its own uranium enrichment technology and industry to secure its nuclear industry. He convinced his superiors of the project, and set out to create Brazil’s centrifuge uranium enrichment program from scratch. Developing an autochthonous naval nuclear propulsion capability—i.e., a nuclear submarine—was likewise his idea. He convinced the Brazilian government to give the go-ahead, and he led its execution. The Navy’s nuclear program he created has been the backbone of Brazil’s civilian nuclear industry up to the present.

The die-in-jail sentence issued against the Admiral was for charges ranging from money-laundering, obstruction of justice, and participation in a “criminal association” for allegedly taking some $1.2 million in bribes for the construction of the Brazil’s third nuclear plant. The “Lava Jato” apparatus charged that Admiral Pinheiro’s crime was particularly heinous because he had maintained contact with the leadership of Eletronuclear.

There will be a backlash. Prominent nationalist journalist Mauro Santayana wrote today, in an article published in Jornal do Brasil, that in any sane country, Admiral Othon Pinheiro, “one of the best Brazilian scientists,”—awarded the Grand Cross of National Scientific Merit in 1994, among other prestigious awards—would be held in honor. Referencing earlier incidents when the CIA was found to have planted a spy next to the Admiral’s apartment, Santayana wrote that the same “foreign power” which did that, is behind the judges of Lava Jato. But he warned that the judgment of History will have its day, and stated: “Like a majority of patriots, nationalists, legal scholars, [and] constitutionalists, the Brazilian military has tolerated in dignified silence … the threats which, like vultures, hover over the numerous defense projects begun in the last decade, and against the companies responsible for them… in the name of a hypocritical pseudo-battle against corruption.”

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