Thu, Aug 30, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Lula's former chief of staff indicted for corruption in Brazil


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 Brazilian 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 as an opportunity to prove his innocence.

Political analysts, however, said they don't expect Dirceu to use his day in court to attack Lula in a bid to escape jail time.

Dirceu -- who simultaneously served as a congressman while he was Lula's chief of staff -- said on his Web site on 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 Lula founded the leftist Workers Party, or PT, together and he was named chief of staff when Lula 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 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 Lula.

"Some things are just untouchable, and Dirceu won't go down shooting in every direction," said Alexandre Barros, an analyst with the Early Warning political risk consultancy in Brasila.

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.

Dirceu blamed his demise on politics, but said it has bigger ramifications for Brazil and the Workers Party.

"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 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.

The court's decision to try him was a sudden fall from grace for Dirceu, 51, once viewed as be a possible presidential candidate in 2010.

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