May 2, 2017 / 4:34 PM / in a year

Brazil prosecutors lay new graft charges against former Lula chief of staff

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Brazilian prosecutors said on Tuesday they had laid new corruption charges against a one-time chief of staff for former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is already serving long jail sentences on other graft convictions.

Jose Dirceu, former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's chief of staff, attends a session of the Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry in Curitiba, Brazil, August 31, 2015. Brazilian police on August 3 arrested former government minister Dirceu, one of the most senior members of the ruling Workers' Party to be detained so far in the corruption scandal engulfing state-run oil company Petrobras. REUTERS/Rodolfo Buhrer - RTX1QGTX

Prosecutors accused Jose Dirceu, who was released from jail pending an appeal, of taking 2.4 million reais ($755,880) in bribes from two engineering firms - UTC Engenharia SA and Engevix Engenharia SA.

The money was allegedly used for public relations efforts to improve Dirceu’s image before, during and after a 2012 trial, in which he was convicted in a widespread scheme of making monthly payments to congressmen to win support for legislation.

Over the past year, courts have sentenced Dirceu in two separate trials to a collective 32 years in jail on corruption, money-laundering and conspiracy charges. They stemmed from a wide-ranging probe of graft at state-owned oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA, known as Petrobras.

Despite the earlier convictions and the new charges, Brazil’s Supreme Court accepted a habeas corpus plea on Tuesday filed by Dirceu’s defense and ordered his release from jail.

A five-member chamber of the top court ruled by 3 votes to 2 that he should be freed pending an appeal. Under Brazilian law, prison sentences are served after the loss of a first appeal.

Engevix did not respond to a request for comment on the new bribery charges, and a lawyer for Dirceu was not immediately available for reaction.

A UTC Engenharia spokesman said the company would have nothing to say on the matter.

Reporting by Pedro Fonseca in Rio de Janeiro and Brad Brooks in Sao Paulo; Editing by W Simon and Paul Tait

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