The Game of Systemic Corruption in Brazil and the Focal Point Theory

16 Pages Posted: 2 Oct 2020

Date Written: January 30, 2019


Systemic corruption works differently than petty corruption. The “Car Wash Operation” (Operação Lava Jato), considered one of the largest corruption scandals in the world, is analyzed through the lens of Game Theory and Schelling's Focal Point to understand the complex phenomenon of systemic corruption. Prosecution agreements generated asymmetry in the bribe-taker and bribe-giver relationship and harmed the most precious asset of a criminal relationship: trust. Destabilizing the harmony between bribe-giver and bribe-taker is key to tackle systemic corruption. In the Corruption Game played in Brazil, a new focal point allowed the players to see that there was a different equilibrium available.

Keywords: corruption, systemic corruption, focal point, game theory, Car Wash Operation, Lava Jato, Brazil, equilibrium, law, Schelling, bribe, bribery, organised crime, prosecution, agreement, cooperation, plea bargain, deferred prosecution, non-prosecution, leniency, collaboration, asymmetry, scandal

Suggested Citation

Cabral Fernandes, Sergio Bruno, The Game of Systemic Corruption in Brazil and the Focal Point Theory (January 30, 2019). Cornell Legal Studies Research Paper Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: or

Sergio Bruno Cabral Fernandes (Contact Author)

Cornell University - Law School ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States

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