Brazil's Lula knew about vote buying scheme: newspaper

Tue Dec 11, 2012 9:29am EST
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RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva knew about and used funds from a far-reaching vote-buying scheme to pay for personal expenses, according to testimony by a convicted former consultant to the ruling Workers' Party.

The testimony, reported on Tuesday by the Estado de S.Paulo newspaper, was given in September to Brazil's attorney general's office by Marcos Valerio, an advertising executive recently convicted as a bagman in the scheme.

Valerio also testified that an aide to the former president made veiled threats when the scandal erupted in efforts to keep him quiet, the newspaper said.

According to the report, Valerio gave the testimony voluntarily in a bid to reduce his sentence after he and 24 other former Lula aides and associates were convicted in a landmark trial heard by Brazil's Supreme Court.

Though he still received a stiff 40-year prison sentence, the circumstances of Valerio's testimony are likely to cast doubt on his claims. Among other crimes, Valerio was convicted for handling the money used in the scheme, which involved payoffs to legislators in exchange for Congressional support.

The trial exposed crimes at the core of the administration of Brazil's beloved former president and was hailed as a sign that the country is growing less tolerant of the corruption long rife in local, state, and national politics.

Lula, still Brazil's most influential political figure and a possible contender for a new run at the presidency in 2014, has denied any knowledge of the scheme since it first came to light in 2005, roiling the first of his two terms.

Though Lula's legacy has been tarnished by the convictions, the trial has done little to sap his star power - even after officials including a former treasurer of the PT, as the Workers' Party is known, and Jose Dirceu, his once-powerful chief of staff, were convicted.

That could change if the allegations made by Valerio were proven. Critics have long alleged that the scheme could not have been carried out without Lula's knowledge, or tacit approval, but so far no proof of either has surfaced.   Continued...

Former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva speaks after receiving the Indira Gandhi Prize during a ceremony at India's presidential palace Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi November 22, 2012. REUTERS/B Mathur