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Brazil corruption indictments sink president's former chief of staff

Brazil corruption indictments sink president's former chief of staff

Brazil's Supreme Court charged one of the president's closest confidants with conspiracy in a corruption scandal that toppled members of his inner circle and severely damaged the reputation of his Workers' Party.
Former chief of staff Jose Dirceu faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted of Tuesday's charges of corruption and conspiracy for allegedly orchestrating a scheme to buy support in Congress for President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's legislative agenda.
Dirceu, a former revolutionary once seen as a potential Brazilian presidential candidate, denied the charges and said he welcomed a high-profile trial before the top court of Latin America's largest nation as an opportunity to prove his innocence.
Political analysts, however, said they don't expect Dirceu to use his day in court to attack Silva in a bid to escape jail time. Dirceu _ who simultaneously served as a congressman while he was Silva's chief of staff _ said on his Web site Tuesday that the charges were unfair but not surprising.
"I reiterate what I have always affirmed: I was expelled from Congress without evidence and now I'm a defendant without evidence," he said. "I want to go to trial as soon as possible so I can prove my innocence."
Dirceu, an influential lobbyist since his downfall as Brazil's biggest political powerbroker, was the second most-powerful man in Brazil before the scandal broke in 2005. He and Silva founded the leftist Workers Party, or PT, 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.
"Some things are just untouchable, and Dirceu won't go down shooting in every direction," said Alexandre Barros, an analyst with the Brasilia-based Early Warning political risk consultancy.
The president 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.
Silva remains politically popular despite the scandal because of the prosperity he has promoted in Brazil during his five years in office, ushering in an unprecedented era of slow and steady economic growth with almost unheard of low inflation, Barros said.
"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?'"
Dirceu blamed his demise on politics, but said it has bigger ramifications for Brazil and the Workers Party, known as the PT.
"What is at stake isn't only my political life, my history," he said. "It's the political project that the PT and President Lula represent."
After days of nationally televised hearings, the court on Tuesday approved charges against all 40 people accused by federal prosecutors of funneling bribes or taking them, including influential PT members and congressmen from allied parties.
And in the end, the court's decision to preside over criminal trials against the accused turned into a sudden fall from grace for Dirceu, 51, once viewed as be a possible presidential candidate in 2010, when Silva will end his second term.
"He was Lula's successor. Now he's out of the picture," said David Fleischer, a political scientist at the University of Brasilia.
Dirceu entered politics as a young man 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 with Dirceu managing the campaigns, employing strident leftist rhetoric. But Dirceu changed the strategy in 2002, crafting a centrist image that helped Silva win in a landslide. The adviser also convinced the Workers Party to drop its radical demands to expel the International Monetary Fund from Brazil.
Dirceu ruled over the administration during Silva's first two years in office, but 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 PT, but analysts said his influence has probably been irreparably harmed by the Supreme Court indictment.
"Dirceu _ if he survives _ will probably run for office again," Barros said. "But he won't return as a star."


Updated : 2021-05-12 23:55 GMT+08:00