Brazil’s ‘Car Wash’ scandal featured in Netflix series

New true crime series focuses on the corruption scandal in Brazil

Today's expression: Crux
Explore more: Lesson #34
April 2, 2018:

Operation Car Wash"”the massive investigation into corruption in Brazil that has stretched on for five years"”will be the topic of a new series on Netflix directed by José Padilha. The eight-part series, called "The Mechanism," centers on one criminal money-launderer and two investigators. The crux of the scandal is corruption"”and we talk about how to use the word "crux" in English.

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Brazil’s Operation Car Wash comes to Netflix

Hi everyone, welcome to Plain English for April 2nd, 2018. I’m Jeff and you are listening to the podcast that goes at the right speed for English learners. On today’s episode we’re going to talk about the new series on Netflix called The Mechanism. It’s eight episodes and it deals with the epic corruption scandal that has been sweeping across Brazil for the last five years. It promises to show the world an insider’s perspective on Latin America’s biggest-ever scandal. And at the end of the show, I’ll show you how to use a strange little word in English—that word is “crux”.

Today’s episode is number 34, so you can find a transcript online at PlainEnglish.com/34. The transcript includes instant translations of difficult words and phrases from English to Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese and French. This episode has a lot of crime and political vocabulary, so if that’s not your strength, then it might help to follow along with the transcript online. Again, it’s available at PlainEnglish.com/34.

And if you want to connect with us on Facebook and Twitter, the show’s user name is PlainEnglishPod on both of those platforms. Old-fashioned email works as well; you can reach me at jeff [at] plainenglish.com.


Netflix series to chronicle Brazil’s Car Wash scandal

A new true crime series on Netflix debuts and focuses on the corruption scandal that has been sweeping through Brazil for the last five years. The scandal, known as Operation Car Wash, would probably seem too far-fetched or unrealistic if it were not actually true. It has swept up politicians of every political party, business leaders, the police, the judicial system, banks—almost everyone in an official capacity in Latin America’s largest country and the world’s fourth-biggest democracy.

And now it is on Netflix for everyone to see, in the form of an eight-episode series called “The Mechanism”. The series is produced by Brazilian director and screenwriter José Padilha, who has a long resume of producing crime-related documentaries. He is the one behind the hit Netflix series “Narcos,” for example, which chronicles the criminal empire of Pablo Escobar in Colombia. His work tends to focus on how crime, justice and violence in Latin America affect people in society, particularly the poor. He produced a documentary called “Bus 174,” which reported on a bus hijacking and illustrated how poor people in Brazil are treated by the police.

The new series focuses on Operation Car Wash. The scandal started as a small investigation into money-laundering at a gas station near the capital, Brasilia, but expanded to engulf nearly all of Brazilian society. To give you a sense of how wide-ranging the scandal is, one president was impeached; an ex-president was convicted of corruption; and the current president is under investigation. Brazil’s Congress has about 20 political parties; almost all of them have been implicated in the scandal. Bankers, businessmen, politicians are all under investigation and trying to cut deals with prosecutors to avoid jail time.

The crux of the scandal is corruption. Government officials would demand bribes and kickbacks from valuable government contracts with construction firms, oil companies, and other contractors. Nine major construction firms are under investigation. The country’s largest oil producer, Petrobras, disclosed over $2 billion-worth of illegal bribes in just a single year.

Leaders in the police, judiciary, and banking system were all aware of, and complicit in, the kickbacks. This was essentially a way for powerful people to get rich illegally and secretly. Whereas in some countries, an opposition political party would capitalize on the corruption, in Brazil, the entire political culture became accustomed to using power to enrich themselves. José Padilha summarized it by saying that in Brazil, “the corruption is not in the politics. The corruption is the politics.”

The investigation is not perfect, but it is remarkable that it is even possible to begin with. The investigation is showing that this corruption scheme has been going on almost since Brazil threw off its military dictatorship and became a democracy in 1985. It has also involved eleven other countries, mostly from Latin America.

Caroline Abras, an actress who plays an investigator in The Mechanism, predicts that the series will be popular around the world, even in countries that don’t know much about Brazil. She says people will understand about corruption all over the world because it’s such a universal theme.

I haven’t seen the series yet—but it is definitely on my Netflix playlist. We’ll have to see how the creators approached fitting such a wide-ranging scandal into just eight episodes. According to the reviews I’ve read, the series focuses on three main characters—one criminal money-launderer and two police investigators. The series addresses the earlier years of the scandal; recent developments might be good material for a second season.

The series is in Portuguese and will have subtitles and English voice-overs. It was released on March 23.


I want to say hi to a few listeners this week. I knew I was going to write about this topic going back a few days, so I saved all my hello’s to Brazilians for today. First of all, I got a great note on Facebook from Marcelo from Brazil, who said he has been studying English since he was 15 and is now starting to get more comfortable listening because he found something at a slower speed. And his next project is going to be to learn Japanese. I’m really glad that Plain English can be a part of your language learning journey. And his dog, Sophie, by the way, is adorable. Next, I want to say hi to Felipe in Sao Paulo—he says this is the year he is going to get better at English and I am 100% with him on that. And then finally, Marcelo Christian, Twitter’s biggest fan of Clube Atlético Mineiro, said he listens during the commute and uses the transcripts. JR, the producer of the show, and I appreciate your notes and want to say thank you for being in the audience. And I am pleased to be able to confirm that neither Felipe nor Marcelo nor the other Marcelo nor Sophie has been implicated in the Operation Car Wash scandal—obviously all listeners to Plain English are fine, upstanding citizens.

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Expression: Crux