Fri, Sep 22, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Lula campaign manager steps down

AP , BRASILIA

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's campaign manager has stepped down amid allegations that Workers' Party officials tried to buy documents incriminating a leading opposition politician ahead of the Oct. 1 elections.

Ricardo Berzoini's resignation came shortly after Brazil's top electoral court opened an investigation into whether Silva was involved in the supposed plot against Jose Serra of the Social Democratic Party -- a scandal that threatens to dent the president's high popularity.

Silva's campaign said in a statement late on Wednesday that Berzoini, who is also president of the center-left Workers' Party, had resigned as campaign manager and would be replaced by Marco Aurelio Garcia.

The scandal surfaced over the weekend, after federal police arrested an attorney who allegedly was hired by Workers' Party leaders to purchase the documents.

Serra, who lost to Silva in the 2002 presidential elections, is running for the governor's seat in the leading industrial state of Sao Paulo against Workers' Party candidate Aloizio Mercadante.

According to a federal police investigation made public last week, Workers' Party campaign aide Oswaldo Bargas said he met with reporters of local news magazines to sell a dossier containing damaging information for the campaign of Workers' Party adversary Serra for 1.7 million reals (US$781,000).

Bargas said Berzoini knew of the meeting with the reporters but not of the contents of the dossier, which suggested that Serra participated in a public procurement fraud ring during his prior tenure as Brazil's health minister.

Shortly before meeting with Silva on Wednesday evening, Berzoini repeated denials of any role in the scandal.

Police allege that the attorney in their custody, who was identified as Gedimar Pereira Passos, was given the money by Workers' Party officials to buy documents, photos and DVDs supposedly linking Serra to graft when he was health minister between 1998 and 2002.

On Tuesday, Brazil's nonpartisan Supreme Electoral Tribunal opened an investigation into Silva's role in the alleged plot.

The tribunal said that if Silva is found guilty of abuse of authority, he and his running mate, vice president Jose Alencar, would be barred from the race.

The tribunal's press office said that the investigation will not be finished before the Oct. 1 election day, however, so it was unlikely that Silva would be kicked out of the race.

But if the president wins re-election and the tribunal rules against him, federal prosecutors could launch legal proceedings that could result in Silva losing his mandate.

If that were to happen, the runner-up would then become Brazil's next president, the tribunal's press office said.

Police said Passos named Silva security aide Freud Godoy as an intermediary. Godoy, who resigned on Monday, has denied any wrongdoing.

The electoral tribunal's investigation stems from a formal request filed earlier this week by the Social Democratic Party and the right-of-center Liberal Front Party that accused Silva of undue interference in the campaign.

Silva has a commanding lead in election polls despite earlier corruption scandals tied to the Workers' Party, including allegations of influence-peddling.

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