BRASÍLIA: Brazil’s top prosecutor on Tuesday asked the Supreme Court to open a corruption probe into powerful ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and three of current President Dilma Rousseff’s ministers.
Also named were several key figures from Rousseff opponent Michel Temer’s PMDB party, which is at the forefront of efforts to impeach Rousseff.
The request by chief prosecutor Rodrigo Janot cited allegations of involvement by some 30 suspects in the giant kickbacks scheme at state oil company Petrobras, which has engulfed some of Brazil’s most influential politicians and executives.
But the main focus was on Lula, the founder of Rousseff’s leftist Workers’ Party, her main mentor and a hopeful to replace her by returning to power in 2018 elections.
Lula is already facing charges in a separate case related to the Petrobras scandal, but the latest move seeks to draw him and the other high-profile politicians directly into the central probe focused on the corruption scheme.
“The request aims to include them in the main inquiry which is into a criminal organization,” a spokesman for the Supreme Court told Agence France-Presse in Brasilia.
Janot was quoted as saying by Folha newspaper that the vast Petrobras scheme “could never have functioned for so many years and in such a broad and aggressive form under the federal government without participation of ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.”
A lower court, headed by a judge in the town of Curitiba, has been leading the Petrobras probe, uncovering what is believed to be Brazil’s biggest ever corruption scandal, featuring a network of politicians who took bribes to facilitate inflated Petrobras contracts for crooked construction companies and others.
But criminal cases involving government ministers and other high-ranking officials are handled exclusively by the Supreme Court.
The latest target list included Lula, Rouseff’s chief of staff Jacques Wagner, Political Affairs Minister Ricardo Berzoini and Social Communications Minister Edinho Silva.
It also names opponents of Rousseff, notably the speaker of the lower house of Congress, Eduardo Cunha, who is from the PMDB and has spearheaded the impeachment proceedings against the president.
Senator Jader Barbalho from the PMDB was also on the list.
Rousseff is considered likely to be suspended from office next week when the Senate votes whether to open an impeachment trial. If so, the Senate will vote again at the end of the trial, months from now, on whether to terminate her mandate.
She is accused of illegally manipulating government budget accounts, but says the charges are politically motivated and that her opponents, led by Temer, are mounting a coup to eject her from office.
On Monday, Janot turned his fire on another major political figure – opposition leader Aecio Neves.
Janot said Neves should be investigated over allegations he took bribes from a corruption scheme at a state electric company, in a case also linked to Petrobras.