Brazil's Supreme Court on Tuesday charged one of the president's closest confidants with conspiracy in a corruption scandal that has toppled much of his inner circle. But analysts say Jose Dirceu would rather spend years in prison than go down swinging against Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Dirceu, a former revolutionary once seen as a potential Brazilian president, now faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted of corruption and conspiracy for allegedly orchestrating a scheme to buy support in Congress for Silva's policies.
Dirceu, now a private lobbyist, had been the second most-powerful man in Latin America's largest nation before the scandal broke in 2005. He and Silva founded the leftist Workers Party together and he was named chief of staff when Silva became Brazil's first working-class leader.
Then his fortune unraveled: In 2005 he was accused of orchestrating the scheme to buy votes with monthly bribes of as much as US$13,000 (euro9,500) per legislator. He denied the charges, but was stripped of his right to hold political office for eight years.
Even if Dirceu gets jail time, analysts predict he won't seek reprisal against Silva, who has denied any knowledge of wrongdoing even as high court filed corruption charges against other prominent party members, including former party President Jose Genoino, Treasurer Delubio Soares, Transportation Minister Anderson Adauto and allied congressmen. All have denied the charges.
"No, he won't go to the courts. That's not his style. Some things are just untouchable, and Dirceu won't go down shooting in every direction," said Alexandre Barros, an analyst with political consultants Early Warning.
Silva remains politically popular despite the scandal because of the prosperity he has promoted in Brazil during his five years in office, Barros added.
"The economy grew more than expected last year, and will again this year," Barros said. "Brazilians are traveling more, earning more, buying new cars. Turning against Lula would be quixotic ... voters would probably say: 'So what?'"
The court has approved charges against all 40 people accused by federal prosecutors of funneling bribes or taking them.
This has been a long fall from grace for Dirceu, 51, who was long thought to be a likely candidate to succeed Silva in 2008.
"He was Lula's successor. Now he's out of the picture," said U.S. political scientist David Fleischer in Brasilia.
Dirceu entered politics as president of the leftist National Students Union and resisted Brazil's 1964-85 military dictatorship until he was arrested by the regime. Expelled to Mexico with 14 other political prisoners in exchange for kidnapped U.S. Ambassador Charles Elbrick in 1969, he went to Cuba, where he had plastic surgery to change his looks and underwent guerrilla training.
Dirceu then sneaked back into Brazil and lived covertly, not even revealing his true identity to the woman he married. Only after the government decreed a political amnesty in 1979 did he go public, founding the Workers Party with Silva, then a leftist labor union leader.
Silva ran unsuccessfully for president three times until Dirceu changed his strategy, crafting a centrist image that helped Silva win in 2002. Dirceu also convinced the Workers Party to drop its radical demands to expel the International Monetary Fund from Brazil.
Dirceau's efforts fell apart after a former ally, Congressman Roberto Jefferson, testified before Congress about the alleged vote-buying scheme.
Since then, Dirceu has been a lobbyist for private companies and still wields influence in the Workers Party, but after the Supreme Court's decision his days as a power broker may be over.
"Dirceu _ if he survives _ will probably run for office again," Barros said. "But he won't return as a star."