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Ex-minister says Brazil government wants to derail investigation

Published:Monday | September 12, 2016 | 1:07 PM
President of Brazil, Michel Temer.

Brazil's former solicitor general said he believes President Michel Temer fired him in an effort to derail the investigation into a corruption-kickback scheme at state oil company Petrobras, according to an interview published Saturday.

"I have no doubt that I was fired because the government wants to suppress the investigation," Fabio Medina Osorio told Veja news magazine. "It fears how far the investigation will go."

Osorio was let go Friday and replaced by Grace Mendonca, the first woman appointed to Temer's otherwise all-white male Cabinet.

Temer's press office said it had no immediate comment on his allegation.

Prosecutors allege roughly US$2 billion in bribes were paid by companies in return for inflated building contracts. The investigation has ensnared dozens of people, from lawmakers to business people.

Osorio said he had been planning to file administrative misconduct charges against politicians and added that such charges could result in lawmakers being barred from holding elective office.

Wiretapped conversations

Three of Temer's ministers resigned amid corruption allegations and leaked wiretapped conversations shortly after he became interim president in May.

Temer took over the presidency permanently when President Dilma Rousseff was ousted by the Senate on August 31.

At her impeachment trial, Rousseff told senators she was being punished for refusing to quash the wide-ranging investigation into Petrobras and alleged that corrupt lawmakers conspired to oust her.

Watchdog groups estimate that 60 per cent of the 594 lawmakers in the Senate and the lower chamber are being investigated for wrongdoing, many for corruption related to the Petrobras probe.

David Fleischer, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Brasilia, said he sees Osorio's interview as a way to "go out shooting" and predicted it would not hurt Temer's government.

"People will see it as case of sour grapes," Fleischer said.

Known as 'Car Wash', the corruption case came to light after authorities discovered a ring of money launderers in gas stations and car washes. That led them to a much larger scheme: construction companies that paid bribes to high-ranking politicians in exchange for inflated contracts with Petrobras. The operation was so large - some US$2 billion in bribes over a decade - that one of the central companies in the scandal, Brazilian constructor Odebrecht, had a department dedicated to distributing illicit payments, prosecutors say.

While Rousseff has never been implicated, many accuse her of trying to protect her mentor and predecessor, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who was charged in July with obstruction of justice in the probe. Many Brazilians also blame her for not doing more, as the bulk of the graft happened during the 13 years her Workers' Party was in power.

In the last two years, dozens of business people and politicians from across the spectrum have been jailed. Fifteen of the 81 senators who voted on whether to remove Rousseff are being investigated in the Petrobras probe, including Senate President Renan Calheiros, who has been accused of receiving bribes.

- AP