Anti Political Class Bias in Corruption Sentencing

53 Pages Posted: 23 Jan 2023

See all articles by Luiz Vilaca

Luiz Vilaca

University of Notre Dame

Marco Morucci

New York University

Victoria Paniagua

Duke University

Date Written: January 20, 2023


Are corruption trials that involve the highest-ranks in the public sphere and large private companies biased? In this paper, we seek to answer this question by studying the prosecution and treatment in the courts of elected politicians, bureaucrats, and businesspeople involved in Brazil’s famous “Operação Lava Jato” (Operation Car Wash), the largest corruption and money laundering investigation carried out in history. Leveraging both an original database that traces the trajectory of the universe of the 3,154 cases opened as part of Lava Jato, as well as 46 qualitative interviews, we show that judges' sentencing decisions were not governed by a partisan logic. Instead, we find that judges were harsher when sentencing any elected politician compared to all other defendants in the public and private sectors. We conceptualize these findings as evidence of a type of political bias in courts that has been previously unexplored, anti-political class bias.

Keywords: Sentencing, Judicial Politics, Latin America, Corruption

Suggested Citation

Vilaca, Luiz and Morucci, Marco and Paniagua, Victoria, Anti Political Class Bias in Corruption Sentencing (January 20, 2023). Available at SSRN: or

Luiz Vilaca

University of Notre Dame ( email )

Notre Dame, IN 46556
United States

Marco Morucci

New York University ( email )

726 Broadway
7th Floor
New York, NY 10003
United States

Victoria Paniagua (Contact Author)

Duke University ( email )

100 Fuqua Drive
Durham, NC 27708-0204
United States

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