As the biggest corruption scandal Brazil has ever seen continues to ensnare the country’s top political and business elites, potentially damning testimony by a former ally tightens the net surrounding President Dilma Rousseff.
Former senator Delcídio do Amaral has claimed that Rousseff and former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva are directly involved in a widespread corruption case centered around state-owned oil giant Petrobras.
The developments are part of so-called “Operation Car Wash” — which is investigating a bribery and kickback scandal involving Petrobras executives and suppliers that has cost the company billions of dollars, part of which was allegedly funneled into Rousseff and da Silva’s Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores – PT).
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In an interview with Veja magazine, Amaral said that da Silva, popularly known as “Lula,” ran the scheme and that Rousseff inherited it when she took office in 2011. “Dilma also knew everything,” he told Veja. “The difference is she pretended to have nothing to do with the case.”
Amaral was arrested for alleged involvement in the Petrobras scandal in November 2015. He previously said that Rousseff and Lula were aware of the Petrobras kickback scheme in testimony to prosecutors, as part of a plea bargain (see his plea agreement here – pdf).
During his testimony to prosecutors, Amaral also accused President Rousseff of obstructing justice by appointing a sympathetic judge to the Supreme Court. Amaral said the judge blocked an arrest and facilitated the release of suspects implicated in the Petrobras case.
Rousseff’s former chief of staff and current minister of education offered Amaral bribes to keep quiet about the scandal, the ex-senator told prosecutors.
Both Rousseff and Lula deny the allegations against them, while Rousseff has moved to sue Amaral for what the president’s office described as defamatory statements.
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Senator Amaral’s allegations are extremely damaging to a government that has been rocked to the core by scandal, as well as an ongoing economic crisis. However, the verdict is still out on whether the growing Petrobras corruption case has the potential to topple the presidency.
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It is notoriously difficult to bring members of Brazil’s political and business elite to justice, although the recent sentencing of top businessman Marcelo Odebrecht to 19 years in prison as part of Operation Car Wash suggests this trend of impunity may be changing.
Public opinion in Brazil seems to be squarely against Rousseff and Lula, given the scale of anti-government protests in recent days. According to a recent poll by Datafolha, 68 percent of people questioned believe that Rousseff should be impeached. Such a motion can only pass if both the Senate and the lower house of Brazil’s Congress vote to impeach Rousseff with a two-thirds majority, analyst Daniel Caplin of the consulting firm S-RM previously told InSight Crime.
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