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Brazilian Police Arrest José Dirceu, Ex-Chief of Staff, in Petrobras Probe
Texto de matéria: Brazilian Police Arrest José Dirceu, Ex-Chief of Staff, in Petrobras Probe
(Lucinana Magalhaes And Rogerio Jelmayer)
SÃO PAULO—A corruption probe threatening to engulf Brazil’s government intensified as police arrested a former top minister of ex-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva for allegedly orchestrating a scheme that looted billions of dollars from oil giant Petróleo Brasileiro SA.
Authorities say José Dirceu, who served as Mr. da Silva’s chief of staff from 2003 to 2005, was one of the principle architects of a bid-rigging-and-bribery ring that funneled money stolen from state-run Petrobras into the pockets of politicians and parties, including the ruling Workers’ Party.
Mr. Dirceu was arrested Monday at his home in the capital of Brasília on suspicion of corruption and money laundering. He hasn’t been charged. The arrest is yet another blow to the top leadership of the leftist Workers’ Party. Mr. Dirceu was among its founders, along with Mr. da Silva, and played a key role in getting him elected president. In March, Workers’ Party Treasurer João Vaccari Neto was charged with corruption and money laundering for accepting allegedly illegal campaign contributions that prosecutors say he solicited from a Petrobras official.
With Mr. Dirceu’s arrest, “they now reached the second-most important person in the history of the Workers’ Party” after Mr. da Silva, said Carlos Melo, a political analyst at Insper, a São Paulo business school. It is also the second major corruption dragnet in which Mr. Dirceu has been ensnared. He served time in prison for his role in a separate vote-buying scheme that erupted during Mr. da Silva’s administration. Convicted in 2012, Mr. Dirceu was released from prison late last year and was still under home detention when he was arrested on Monday. Mr. Dirceu’s attorney couldn’t be reached for comment but said last month that his client denied wrongdoing in relation to the Petrobras investigation. A spokesman for Mr. da Silva declined to comment; the former president hasn’t been implicated in the scandal. Both the Workers’ Party and Mr. Vaccari have denied wrongdoing. In addition to Mr. Dirceu, seven other people, including Mr. Dirceu’s brother Luiz Eduardo de Oliveira e Silva, were arrested Monday on suspicion of money laundering, conspiracy and corruption. The arrests are the latest in Operation Car Wash, the sweeping corruption investigation that has reached the highest levels of Brazilian business and politics. Mr. de Oliveira e Silva couldn’t be reached for comment, and it wasn’t yet clear whether he had secured an attorney. Prosecutors say that for at least a decade beginning around 2003, some of Brazil’s largest construction companies formed a cartel to inflate the price of Petrobras contracts, kicking back a portion of their windfall to Petrobras executives, politicians and political parties.
The investigation has resulted in dozens of arrests. Some of the accused have been sentenced to prison; others are cooperating with authorities in exchange for lighter sentences; still others maintain their innocence. Petrobras has portrayed itself as a victim of the scheme and said it is cooperating with authorities. At a Monday news conference following Mr. Dirceu’s arrest, authorities described him as one of the masterminds of scheme. Prosecutor Carlos Fernando dos Santos Lima said Mr. Dirceu had handpicked Petrobras insiders who could be corrupted, and who were rewarded with a cut of the ill-gotten gains in exchange for coordinating the inflated contracts and channeling political bribes.
“As in any company, a criminal organization has a pyramidal structure,” Mr. dos Santos Lima said. “These people say do it and others do it…They are responsible for putting the people in the right places.” According to prosecutors, Mr. Dirceu and his brother, partners in a firm called JD Assessoria e Consultoria, allegedly received millions of dollars in bribes from contractors doing business with Petrobras. Those illicit payments flowed to JD Assessoria even as Mr. Dirceu was on trial—and later served prison time—for his role in the separate vote-buying scandal, known as the Mensalão, investigators said. “It’s disrespectful to (Brazil’s) institutions and even to the Supreme Court” that sentenced him, Mr. Lima said. Write to Luciana Magalhaes at Luciana.Magalhaes@dowjones.com and Rogerio Jelmayer at email@example.com Corrections & Amplifications: José Dirceu was arrested Monday on suspicion of corruption, conspiracy and money laundering related to the Petrobras corruption probe. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated he had been charged. (Aug. 3)