Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Brazil justice won't lift ban on Lula

Published:Wednesday | March 23, 2016 | 3:00 AM
Cartoon images of Brazil’s former President Luíz Inácio Lula da Silva in prison garb and Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff stand inside a mock jail during a protest calling for her impeachment, and against the naming of her mentor as the new chief of staff, outside Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia, Brazil on Monday.

A Brazilian Supreme Court justice on Tuesday rejected a government appeal to let former President LuÌz In·cio Lula da Silva assume a cabinet job, a posting that would make it harder to prosecute him.

The justice acted as police made more detentions in a sprawling corruption scandal at the state-run oil company that has already ensnared dozens of top politicians and has circled closer to da Silva.

Justice Rosa Weber denied motions by the government to overturn a decision last week by another Supreme Court justice who blocked Silva from becoming chief of staff for his successor, President Dilma Rousseff. Last week's decision also transferred the probe targeting da Silva back to the lower court that had been spearheading it.

A final decision on whether da Silva can assume the cabinet post is not expected until the full Supreme Court convenes next week. There are no sessions scheduled this week because of the Easter holiday.

Meanwhile, police targeted one of the hemisphere's largest construction companies as part of the investigation centred on the alleged kickback scheme at the state oil giant Petrobras.

Police carried out a wave of searches and detentions linked to Odebrecht, one of the companies at the centre of the Petrobas case. Investigators allege corruption ran so deep in the Brazilian company that it had a specific office in charge of disbursing bribes.

Prosecutors said they detained more than a dozen people, including company executives, as part of the 'Car Wash' probe.

Prosecutors have said the scheme involved more than US$2 billion in bribes paid to obtain Petrobras contracts, with some money making its way to the governing Workers' Party as well as opposition parties. Some of Brazil's wealthiest people have come under scrutiny, as have dozens of politicians from both the governing coalition and the opposition.

While the construction company's former president, Marcelo Odebrecht, was recently sentenced to more than 19 years in prison for his role in the scheme, Tuesday's operation widened the probe into the firm itself one of the main builders for this year's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Da Silva has also come under scrutiny. Police showed up at his home earlier this month and took him in for questioning. He has not been charged and has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Critics contend that da Silva's nomination to be chief of staff for Rousseff is an attempt to protect him because only the Supreme Court can authorise investigations, charges or detention of cabinet ministers and other top government officials. Rousseff has denied that, saying her mentor would help build legislative support for her agenda and aid in her fight against impeachment proceedings in congress over allegations she violated fiscal regulations.

Rousseff came out swinging in comments moments after Weber's decision, saying the impeachment proceedings were baseless and amounted to an attempted coup against her.

"What is happening is a coup against democracy," she said. "I did not commit any crime against the constitution or the laws that would justify the interruption of my mandate."

- AP