The International Investigations Review: Brazil


Brazilian criminal procedure law establishes that the investigation of the origins and content of crimes committed within or by companies may be carried out by federal and state civil police forces.2 It is also possible that the Public Prosecutor's Office (at state or federal levels) will carry out its own investigation.3 Nevertheless, in both situations, judgment of the case rests with the courts. Police officers, public prosecutors and members of the court have discretionary powers to conduct cases free from external influences, so long as the conduct of these authorities respects the guarantees of due process and the right to privacy.

In the context of administrative offences, companies and their employees and executives can also be investigated by other bodies, such as parliamentary investigation committees (at local, state and federal levels), which have subpoena powers, and by audit tribunals (again at local, state and federal levels), which are empowered to investigate wrongdoing in public administration.

Concerning incidents of corruption within public administration, Decree No. 8,420/15, which regulates the Brazilian Anticorruption Law (Law No. 12,846/13), provides that the investigation of civil and administrative liability rests with the highest authority of the aggrieved entity. To assess where responsibility lies, the entity must start a preliminary investigation and, based on the evidence gathered, the competent authority may determine the commencement of the administrative procedure4 by which any sanctions on the entity under investigation may be established. A finding of guilt is always subject to judicial review.

Even though private agencies and investigators are authorised to operate in Brazil, they do not have special powers of investigation (e.g., to force people to give testimony or produce evidence), but they can collect evidence to the extent that it does not violate any rights of the targeted individuals, such as privacy, freedom of movement and property.

Law No. 13,432/17 provides the legal basis for those working as private investigators, especially in relation to how those professionals may influence the gathering of evidence by public authorities. In this sense, there can be cooperation, by which evidence uncovered through private efforts can be submitted to the authorities,5 as long as the evidence has been obtained within the tenets of the law. Pursuant to this law, companies and individuals are legally allowed to cooperate with the authorities by providing evidence gathered as part of an internal investigation. However, this Law establishes in its Article 5, sole paragraph, that the public authority in charge of the investigation may accept or reject the private investigator's assistance.

Even though this is not explicitly provided in Law, attorneys can also conduct private investigations, according to the Brazilian Bar Association in its Resolution No. 188/2018. The Bar Association states that the possibility of conducting private investigations does not require legislative authorisation, as it is already included in the general powers of client representation. Nevertheless, this stance has faced some criticism from public authorities, such as police chiefs and investigators.

Although the Brazilian judicial system is designed to avoid situations where the public may have influence over decisions (for example, judges are not elected and jury trials are restricted to wilful murder cases), experience shows that political agendas may interfere with prosecutions, especially regarding cases of corruption in which public opinion is intensified owing to, for example, Operation Car Wash developments.


i Self-reporting

As a rule, private companies are not required to report offences committed by their employees to the authorities.6 However, the Money Laundering Law (Law No. 9,613/98)7 lists the individuals and legal entities engaged in business activity that are required to communicate to the Council for Control of Financial Activity, within 24 hours, all transactions suspected of involving money laundering (Article 11.II.b).8 In general, the parties so obliged are individuals and legal entities that – permanently or occasionally, primarily or secondarily – engage in activities connected with the following markets: finance, real estate, luxury goods, sports or arts, transport of valuables and livestock breeding.9

Under the Money Laundering Law, no benefit is obtained by those who comply with their reporting duties. However, the public authority may impose more severe penalties on those who fail in the duties required under Article 12 thereof.10

For those accused of money laundering, it is possible to obtain leniency by voluntarily collaborating with the authorities, providing information about the crime, identifying the other perpetrators, and so on. As a consequence of collaborating with the authorities, a shorter jail term or a sentence of probation may be imposed (or less severe conditions, such as a minimum security prison or authorisation to work during the daytime).11

Other laws also allow for leniency, called 'collaboration agreements'.12 In fact, any individual accused of engaging in organised crime in Brazil can collaborate with the authorities in return for a lighter sentence or other benefits (Articles 4 to 7 of Law No. 12,850/13).

In the area of antitrust law, taking part in a cartel is both an administrative13 and criminal14 offence. Although there is no obligation to report such behaviour by individuals or companies, both can be eligible for benefits by cooperating, in the criminal sphere (individuals only) or the administrative sphere. According to Article 86 of Law No. 12,529/11, companies and individuals that enter into leniency agreements can have their administrative penalties reduced by a third to two-thirds in return for cooperating in identifying and producing evidence against the other participants of the cartel.15

With respect to the criminal liability, Article 87 of the same law establishes that a leniency agreement also prevents criminal charges from being brought against individual signatories, but suspends the running of the time bar of crimes against the economic system (Article 4 of Law No. 12,529/11) and related crimes,16 such as fraud in bidding processes and criminal conspiracy.17 Because companies are not criminally liable for cartel offences, there is no criminal benefit involved for the corporation in leniency agreements.

The recently passed Law No. 13,506/17 also provides for the possibility of companies and individuals signing leniency agreements with the Central Bank of Brazil and the Securities and Exchanges Commission with regard to financial offences or conduct that jeopardises investors' and shareholders' interests, respectively.

The granting of these benefits by the authorities responsible for establishing the collaboration agreement and the leniency programme is subject to the authorities' subjective evaluation. The lack of objective parameters is often criticised by legal entities.

ii Internal investigations

Companies that receive denunciations or suspect irregular behaviour by their employees can conduct their own investigations to identify the facts and impose penalties on those found responsible.18 They can also engage external advisers, private detectives or audit firms to conduct investigations. As a rule, the investigation should involve as few people as possible to protect those implicated and to preserve the investigation itself. For this purpose, all those involved are typically asked to sign a confidentiality undertaking.19

Audit reports, spreadsheets, official emails20 and transcripts of interviews are examples of evidence that can be gathered during this kind of investigation. During the proceedings, the suspect is entitled to retain a lawyer to be present at interviews, and while there is no legal requirement, the lawyer is permitted to see internal documents regarding the investigation that are related to the client.

Generally, this kind of investigation is conducted by external counsel, or by internal counsel assisted by external professionals, to ensure the impartiality of proceedings. At the end of the investigation, a report should be prepared outlining the case and the findings regarding the alleged irregularities and the wrongdoers involved, as well as proposing solutions and recommendations depending on which law has been infringed, and any possible penalties to be applied.21 Although it is not mandatory to submit the content of the report to the public authorities, courts may require it to be presented and, unless publication of the information presents a risk to the company, that order may be fulfilled.

Finally, attorney–client privilege still applies to investigations conducted by companies, owing to the broad scope established by the Brazilian Bar Association Statute. However, because this is a disposable right, the right to secrecy can be waived by the client; for instance, if the accused person wishes to benefit from collaboration with the company. In situations like this, it is recommended that the individual and the company are represented by a counsel to avoid any allegations of coercion or abuse of rights by both sides.

iii Whistle-blowers

A whistle-blower, by definition, is an individual who denounces a fact that is perceived to be illegal or improper within the company or public agency for which he or she works, without being involved in the allegedly criminal conduct.22

The enactment of the Anti-Crime Bill through the Law No. 13,964/19 has enabled better regulation of the whistle-blower mechanisms that were introduced by Law No. 13,608/18, which solely authorised states to establish denunciation channels through which citizens could provide information regarding crimes or administrative offences against the public interests. If the information proves to be useful for the prevention or repression of offences, rewards may be granted.

Due to the alterations made by the Law No. 13,964/19, whistle-blowers are granted the right to anonymity, which can only be overridden when there are 'relevant public interests' or 'concrete interests for the investigation' involved (Article 4-B).

Besides ordinary witness protection rights, which are brought under Law No. 9,807/99, whistle-blowers are also granted the protection against retaliation (e.g., unjustifiable post replacement, financial sanctions and arbitrary dismissal) (Article 4-C).


i Corporate liability

Companies can be held civilly liable for the acts of their employees in three situations, two general and one specific: by reason of culpa in eligendo (poor choice of those entrusted with performance of obligations); by reason of culpa in vigilando (insufficient oversight of the performance of obligations); and when an employee commits an act injurious to public administration, in Brazil or abroad.

The first and second situations of corporate responsibility are provided under Article 932, III of the Brazilian Civil Code and Súmula23 341 from the Federal Supreme Court.24 The third situation, above, is a new form of corporate responsibility established by the Anticorruption Law (Law No. 12,846/13), which contains provisions on strict civil and administrative liability for acts that are harmful to national or foreign public administration.25

Civil and administrative corporate liability under this provision does not preclude the personal liability of the individuals involved in such conduct.26

Criminally, companies can only be held liable for environmental crimes, regardless of the individual responsibility of their agents. Article 3 of the Environmental Crimes Law (Law No. 9,605/98) establishes that companies shall be held criminally liable in cases of environmental offences committed 'by decision of their legal or contractual representative, or collegiate body, in the interest or benefit of the entity'.

Finally, there is no legal impediment for the company and employees to be represented by the same lawyer, in either administrative or criminal proceedings. This will depend on the situation; namely, if there is no possible conflict of interest.

ii Penalties

The possible penalties will depend first of all on the category of culpability, among those defined above. For situations of culpa in vigilando or culpa in eligendo, the company will be liable for damages in proportion to the loss caused.

In relation to practices injurious to a national or foreign governmental entity, according to Article 19 of the Anticorruption Law, a company can be liable to the following penalties:

  1. seizure or forfeiture of money, rights or other assets gained directly or indirectly from the infraction, with reservation made for the rights of injured parties or third parties who acted in good faith;
  2. partial suspension or interdiction of activities;
  3. prohibition from receiving incentives, subsidies, donations or loans from governmental entities or official financial institutions, for between one and five years; or
  4. compulsory dissolution, when the company is found to have habitually facilitated or engaged in illegal acts or was incorporated to conceal illicit interests or the identity of the beneficial owners.

According to Articles 21 to 24 of the Environmental Crimes Law, the penalties applicable to companies for the practice of environmental crimes are:

  1. fines;
  2. partial or total suspension of activity;
  3. temporary interdiction of an establishment, project or activity;
  4. prohibition from contracting with governmental entities or obtaining subsidies or donations from them;
  5. payment for environmental programmes of projects;
  6. reclamation of degraded areas;
  7. maintenance of public spaces;
  8. contributions to public environmental or cultural entities; or
  9. forced liquidation, with the assets realised being transferred to the National Penitentiary Fund.

iii Compliance programmes

The Environmental Crimes Law does not provide for any leniency regarding penalties for companies that have compliance or integrity programmes. Rather, it establishes that the penalty must be set in light of the gravity of the infraction, its motives and the consequences for public health and the environment, as well as the antecedents regarding compliance with environmental laws or regulations, and the economic situation of the company.27

The situation is different regarding civil and administrative liability for harmful acts against national or foreign governmental entities. The Anticorruption Law specifies that in applying penalties, the parameters of the sanction must be established by considering the existence of functional internal mechanisms and procedures for integrity, auditing, any incentive for the denunciation of irregularities, and the effective application of codes of ethics and conduct within the company.28

The parameters for evaluating a compliance programme are listed under Article 42 of Decree No. 8,420/15. These provisions include the existence of periodic training for employees concerning the scope of the company's integrity programmes, the existence of independent structures for application of the integrity programme, the use of disciplinary measures in the event of violation of the programme's provisions, and the transparency of any donations made by the companies to political parties, among others. These provisions are used as a guide for organisations when creating or reviewing compliance programmes.

Therefore, the existence of compliance programmes must be taken into consideration when imposing administrative or civil penalties for acts deemed injurious to public administration, by express provision of the Anticorruption Law. In the environmental sphere, there is no such provision, but this does not preclude consideration in this respect by the judge when imposing punishment.29

iv Prosecution of individuals

Besides the prosecution of individuals for administrative, civil or criminal liability as discussed above, a company can dismiss a person from their job30 – even if dismissal is not mandatory for the matter in question – if the public authorities seek to hold the individual liable or in the case of an existing investigation against that person.

On the other hand, if there is no conflict of interest, the company can help its employee's defence by presenting documents, depositions, etc. Indeed, it is common for companies to pay the legal costs of this defence, depending on whether there is a conflict of interest.


i Extraterritorial jurisdiction

Brazil's Antitrust Law (Law No. 12,259/11) applies to the conduct of individuals and companies outside the country in cases when the practices took place integrally or partially inside the national territory, or the consequence of the practices produces or might produce effects in Brazil.31

Concerning the latter situation, the possibility of extraterritorial application of Brazilian law requires the potential injury caused by the conduct to be real and effective, not just hypothetical, or there will be no configuration of a crime.32

Likewise, the Anticorruption Law allows civil and administrative penalties to be applied to Brazilian individuals or companies that commit crimes against foreign governmental entities, even if the crime is committed abroad.33

In the criminal sphere, the rule in Brazil, as in many other countries, is of territoriality, by which Brazilian criminal laws apply only to acts committed in the country, with the only exceptions being:

  1. crimes committed against the life or freedom of the president;
  2. crimes committed against the property of public entities, the Brazilian state, the federated states and the municipalities;
  3. crimes committed against the public administration; and
  4. crimes of genocide when the criminal is Brazilian or resident in Brazil, and for crimes that Brazil is obliged to repress owing to international treaties and conventions.34

ii International cooperation

The Brazilian government can apply the law of other countries by means of passive international legal cooperation, which consists of the practice of national public acts that are instrumental in the functioning of foreign jurisdictions. This cooperation exists in three forms: direct (direct and immediate contact between the authorities of the two countries), indirect (through an intermediary for processing of requests) and direct assistance (postulation, through an intermediary, of a national decision for the benefit of the requesting state, in substitution of it).

Countries that cooperate with each other generally have treaties to that effect.35 However, the absence of a bilateral accord does not preclude cooperation by the Brazilian government with foreign governments. In these cases, the solicitation must be sent to the Superior Tribunal of Justice via a letter rogatory, and if the matter cannot be decided there, it will be sent to the Ministry of Justice for the necessary steps to be taken to provide direct assistance.36

Extradition is common and is regulated by the Migration Law (Law No. 13.445/17). For extradition to be granted, it is necessary for certain conditions to be met, including that the act be considered a crime both in Brazil and in the requesting state, that the prospective person to be extradited is a foreigner and that there is a treaty or convention signed with Brazil or, if none exists, a promise of reciprocity by the foreign government.

The Federal Supreme Court has original jurisdiction over extradition requests, according to Article 102, I(g) of the Federal Constitution, which is why its final decision is not subject to appeal.37

iii Local law considerations

As has already been stated, Brazil adopts the principle of territoriality as a rule for application of criminal law, both substantive and procedural, although there are exceptional situations in which local law can be applied to crimes committed by Brazilians abroad. Therefore, if the Brazilian justice system has jurisdiction to judge a certain crime even though it has been committed abroad, the procedural rules applied will be those of the Brazilian Criminal Procedure Code.

Brazilian higher courts have a consolidated approach concerning the existence of lis alibi pendens investigations in the sense that the closure of investigations being carried out by Brazilian public authorities may not occur under ordinary instances, provided that the admissibility test of a foreign sentence depends on analysis of the Superior Justice Tribunal. By determining the closure of the investigation on such basis, the ordinary judge would be anticipating the analysis of a higher court.

Likewise, if another state is competent to judge a crime committed by a Brazilian national, its own procedural rules will apply, even if they are in conflict with Brazilian guarantees. On this point, international treaties and conventions on human rights come to the fore, by establishing protection and a guarantee of the rights of individuals facing prosecution in another signatory state.38 Hence, for example, personal and banking data are protected by secrecy and may only be disclosed by court order,39 pursuant to the constitutional principle of privacy and private life (Article 5, X of the Constitution). If any such information is obtained illegally, it will not be admissible in court.40

Year in review

The Anti-Crime Bill presented by the Minister of Justice and Public Safety, Sérgio Moro (former judge responsible for the Operation Car Wash cases), was passed by the Congress and turned into Law No. 13.964/19, providing a series of changes in criminal law and criminal procedure law, like the rising of the maximum period a person can stay arrested (from 30 to 40 years) and the requisites for downgrading incarceration conditions, as well as the aggravation of the applicable penalties for crimes involving violence. The law also created a new procedural mechanism allowing for plea bargains to be concluded between the Public Prosecution Office and the person to be charged, to avoid the pressing of criminal charges. The requisites for receiving the benefit are that the crime must have a maximum penalty of less than four years and must not involve the use of violence, nor can the person be a recidivist. After homologation by the judicial system, the person must fulfil the obligations set out in the agreement and, having concluded that he or she will be free from the criminal charges, reason why the facts won't go to trial and there will be no convictions arising from it.

It is worth mentioning, on the other hand, that some alterations that were present in the original bill, such as the possibility of plea bargaining involving jail time, were removed by Congress. The legislators also included changes in the legislation that strengthened suspects' rights and guarantees – such as establishing that the judge with jurisdiction over the investigation cannot be the same that will issue a verdict– which weren't on the original bill.

Besides the legal changes taken over the course of 2019 and 2020, changes occurring within the Brazilian Financial Intelligence Unit (COAF in its Portuguese acronym) should be noted. It was firstly transferred from the Ministry of Economy to the Ministry of Justice and Public Safety and later returned to the Ministry of Economy linked to the Brazilian Central Bank. Its final transfer was justified because it would allow for a better synchrony between the regulatory agency for banks and the intelligence unit on the prevention of money laundering and terrorism financing.

Also, the Brazilian Supreme Court has restored its classic jurisprudence regarding the necessity of waiting the conviction sentence to become unappealable in order to commence the sentence serving and thus making it illegal to determine the sentence serving whether the person was convicted by the Court of Appeals but there are pending appeals to the Superior Court of Justice or to the Brazilian Supreme Court. Another Supreme Court decision worth mentioning is the one regarding the level of secrecy in Financial Intelligence reports produced by COAF. After an initial decision suspending all proceedings in which there was tax or banking information exchanged directly between the Financial Intelligence Unit and public authorities (prosecutors and the police), the court ruled that there is no need for judicial authorisation in those cases and allowed the suspended proceedings to continue.

Conclusions and outlook

The criminal scandals involving the family of the President Jair Bolsonaro, such as the possible illicit funding of the 2018 political campaigns, his family's close relation to members of criminal organisations and militias from Rio de Janeiro, accusations of interference in the Federal Police Department and the evidence of the practice of money laundering by one of his sons have taken over the news, overshadowing the activities that are still being carried out in the context of Operation Car Wash. The conflict over the president's interference over the federal police led to Minister Sérgio Moro's resignation and unleashed an investigation over Jair Bolsonaro's actions, which is currently ongoing.

The high costs of implementation and low efficiency of the traditional forms of investigation have been the basis for a still-growing demand for consensual mechanisms of conflict resolution by the public authorities (from administrative and judicial organs), like leniency agreements, collaboration agreements, plea bargains, etc. Most of these mechanisms still lack a more detailed regulation, to provide more security to the citizens with regard to what to expect from these organs as benefits and the standard of evidence required.

Due to the social impacts caused by the covid-19 pandemic, the government has decided to postpone the deadlines for the implementation of the integrity programmes established for the banks and institutions authorised by the Brazilian Central Bank in the context of money laundering and terrorism financing prevention (according to DC/BACEN No. 3.978) and regarding data protection (according to Federal Law No. 13.709/18).



1 João Daniel Rassi is a partner, while Victor Labate and Pedro Luís de Almeida Camargo are associates at Siqueira Castro Advogados.

2 Mostly, the competence of federal justice is provided under Article 190 of the Brazilian Federal Constitution.

3 Federal Supreme Court (STF), RE 593.727.

4 Article 4 of Decree No. 8,420/15.

5 Article 5 of Law No. 13,432/17.

6 The situation is different in the public sector, where the duty to report suspected criminal behaviour applies to federal civil servants, as per Law No. 8,112/90.

7 The law covers crimes of money laundering, concealment of assets and use of the financial system for commission of crimes, and created the Council for Control of Financial Activities, among other things.

8 It is possible for the parties who fail to inform the suspect transactions to face charges for complicity in money laundering, although the theme of criminal liability of compliance officers for omission is still polemical in Brazil.

9 The list, which is comprehensive, can be found in Article 9 of Law No. 9,613/98.

10 Among the penalties established in the law are warning, fine, temporary ineligibility to hold management positions and cancellation or suspension of authorisation to engage in activity, operation or functioning.

11 Article 1, Section 5 of Law No. 9,613/98.

12 Rewarded denunciation is also applicable to the crimes committed against the national financial system (Law No. 7,492/86, Article 25, Section 2), tax crimes (Law No. 8,137/90, Article 16), drug trafficking (Law No. 11,343/06, Article 41) and kidnapping (Penal Code, Article 159, Section 4).

13 Law No. 12,529/11. Administrative and criminal spheres are autonomous even though, in some cases, the collaboration in the administrative sphere can reflect in the criminal area (e.g., the leniency agreement). In this sense, considering that benefits from the law can reflect in the two different areas and their interest towards investigation is mutual, the Administrative Council for Economic Defence and the Federal Prosecutor's Office of Cartel Combat signed the Memorandum No. 1/2016 to strengthen their cooperation.

14 Article 4 of Law No. 8,137/90.

15 'Cease and desist agreements' are also available for companies willing to cooperate with the Competition Authority that did not come first to the organ.

16 In its last Peer Review on Competition Law and Policy in Brazil, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development recommended modification of the leniency programme to eliminate the exposure of leniency participants to prosecution under criminal laws other than the Economic Crimes Law.

17 Concerning non-related crimes, it is possible for the defence, upon confession, to request a reduced criminal penalty under Article 65(III)(d) of the Brazilian Penal Code.

18 Manual de Compliance: preservando a boa governança e a integridade das organizações, MA Coimbra, VAM Binder, org. São Paulo: Atlas, 2010, pp. 98–101.

19 ibid.

20 The best policy is to both specify the rule in the code of conduct and require all employees to sign a consent form when hired.

21 Depending on the gravity of the act, the employee can be dismissed with or without cause, under the situations described in Article 482 of the Consolidated Labour Law (Decree-Law No. 5,452/43).

22 Whistle-blowers should be differentiated from those who in some way have participated in or contributed to the crime and decide to cooperate with the authorities in return for leniency, as in the case of rewarded collaboration (V Greco F, Comentários à Lei de Organização Criminosa, São Paulo: Saraiva, 2014).

23 A súmula is a statement of consolidated position, or jurisprudence, from a higher court.

24 The culpability of the employer or principal for the acts of the employee or agent is presumed.

25 The list of injurious acts is contained in Article 5 of Law No. 12,846/13.

26 Article 3, Section 1 of Law No. 12,846/13.

27 Article 6 of Law No. 9,605/98.

28 Article 7, VIII of Law No. 12,846/13.

29 In this respect, the Environmental Crimes Law allows reduction of penalties for 'prior communication to the agent regarding the imminent risk of environmental degradation', as well as for 'collaboration with agents entrusted with environmental vigilance and control', circumstances that can be interpreted as resulting from the existence of a compliance programme.

30 The jurisprudence from the labour courts takes the position that an employee can only be discharged for cause owing to commission of a crime after a final guilty verdict. However, the company can fire employees for cause based on other grounds, such as malpractice or administrative improbity, which are not crimes.

31 Article 2 of Law No. 12,259/11.

32 G Oliveira, JG Rodas, Direito e Economia da Concorrência, Rio de Janeiro: Renovar, 2004, pp. 381–382.

33 Article 28 of Law No. 12,846/13. See, in this respect, V Greco F, JD Rassi, O combate à corrupção e comentários à lei de responsabilidade de pessoas jurídicas (Law No. 12,846, of 10 August 2013), São Paulo: Saraiva, 2015, p. 214.

34 Article 7 of the Penal Code.

35 Such as the bilateral and multilateral accords on mutual assistance in criminal matters listed on the website of the Federal Prosecution Service:

36 AS Fernandes and MAC Zili, coord, Direito Processual Penal Internacional, São Paulo: Atlas, 2013, p. 365. On the matter of direct assistance, H Estellita states that unlike the procedure for letters rogatory established in Resolution 09/2005 from the STJ, it 'does not put the affected person as a subject of the cooperation and does not offer the guarantees regarding observance and respect for his fundamental rights to defence, rebuttal and inadmissibility of illegally obtained evidence'. In RJM Silveira and JD Rassi, coord, Cooperação internacional penal passiva e garantias processuais do afetado. Estudos em homenagem a Vicente Greco Filho, São Paulo: LiberArs, 2014 p. 195.

37 On this theme, see the publication (in Portuguese) by the Federal Supreme Court at

38 See, in this respect, the American Convention on Human Rights (Decree No. 678/92) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Decree No. 592/92).

39 Some argue that a court order is not necessary to obtain basic listing information such as name, address and telephone number, only a command from a police authority.

40 Article 157 of the Criminal Procedure Code and Article 5, LVI of the Federal Constitution.

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