A majority of Brazilian Supreme Court justices found the former chief of staff of former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva guilty of “active corruption” on Tuesday and Wednesday, casting a shadow on the legacy of the popular former president.
Speaking on Tuesday, six of eight justices found José Dirceu guilty of involvement in a 2005 vote-buying scheme that has since been known in Brazil as the mensalão (“big monthly payout”) scandal. The scandal involved various members of Lula’s Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers' Party—PT), who were accused of bribing lawmakers to back PT initiatives in Congress.
Of the 37 defendants to come before the Supreme Court in connection with the scandal, several are prominent Brazilian politicians and businesspeople—including the former president of the PT, José Genoino, the former president of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies, João Paulo Cunha, and the former director of the Banco do Brasil, Henrique Pizzolato. Members of other political parties were also found to be involved in the mensalão. Altogether, the defendants face a collective 1,089 counts of criminal wrongdoing, including corruption, money-laundering, misuse of public funds, embezzlement, and conspiracy.
On Wednesday, Justice Celso de Mello added his voice to the majority vote against Dirceu, leaving only Carlos Ayres Britto left to vote. For his part, Dirceu condemned the “strong pressure of the media” in influencing the decision, saying he was “pre-judged and lynched.” Dirceu made a name for himself fighting Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship both in Brazil and in exile and later served as the PT’s president from 1995-2002. He was forced to step down as the Presidential Chief of Staff in 2005 after the scandal broke.
“I’ll accept the decision, but I won’t keep silent,” Dirceu said after the Supreme Court’s ruling against him. “I’ll continue fighting until I prove my innocence,” he said.
Former President da Silva faces no charges related to the mensalão himself. According to Datafolha, 57 percent of Brazilian voters polled earlier this year said they would like to see da Silva run for president in 2014.
In a historic trial that resumes today, members of Brazil’s Supreme Federal Tribunal will decide whether public funds were used for monthly political payouts in Brazil’s infamous 2005 mensalão scandal.
The verdict delivered this week has implications on the legacy of former Brazilian President Lula da Silva, whose government is implicated in the scandal. The case revolves around accusations that members of Lula’s Worker’s Party (PT) bribed Brazilian lawmakers to back PT initiatives in Congress using money from state-owned companies. In all, 37 defendants, including Lula’s chief of staff, José Dirceu, and other senior officials, will be judged on a variety of felony charges that include money laundering and vote-buying.
On Monday, six of the 11 Supreme Court justices weighed in on whether the former president of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies, João Paulo Cunha, and the former director of Banco do Brasil, Henrique Pizzolato, are guilty of corruption, alongside Marcos Valério, a businessman at the center of the scandal, and Valério’s two business partners, Ramon Hollerbach and Cristiano Paz.
All justices who spoke on Monday unanimously condemned Pizzolato, Valério, Hollerbach, and Paz, though they disagreed on whether Cunha was guilty of corruption. The remaining justices are scheduled to speak on Wednesday and Thursday, including Cezar Peluso, who is scheduled to retire from the bench when he turns 70 next Monday.
Dozens of Brazilian political figures and public officials have already been dismissed as a result of the scandal, though corruption has long played a major role in Brazilian politics. The federal auditor’s office has fired nearly 4,000 public employees since 2003, mostly for corruption, and blacklisted thousands of companies and individuals for corrupt business practices.
Brazilian Attorney General Roberto Gurgel said that the court’s swiftness in the voting thus far indicates that the charges against the defendants are serious. "This was important because it demonstrates that we aren’t dealing with light accusations,” he said.