Brazilian Senator: President Tried to Buy Silence in Billion-Dollar Kickback Scandal

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

A Brazilian senator arrested after an investigation implicated him in one of the biggest corruption scandals of the nation’s history accused President Dilma Rousseff of sending one of her closest aids to offer to pay his legal fees if he agreed not to implicate her or other high-ranking officials in the case.

Senator Delcidio Amaral was arrested in November under charges of obstruction of justice in relation to an investigation into an extensive kickback scheme at Petrobras, the nation’s state-run oil corporation. He stands accused of attempting to prevent some involved in the scheme from testifying to authorities. Brazilian magazine Veja reports that Amaral claims he was not orchestrator, but victim of such an attempt to be silenced.

Amaral told police, Veja claims, that Rousseff’s former chief of staff and current Minister of Education, Aloizio Mercadante, told one of his aides in December to relay to him that he should protect all others involved in the scheme. Mercadante allegedly told Amaral’s aide, Eduardo Marzagão, that the senator should “wait… for the dust to settle” and “avoid any precipitated movements.” He threatened Amaral should not become “an agent who could destabilize anything,” according to the report.

In addition to the Veja report, the Agence France-Presse notes that Amaral reportedly testified himself that he was told that “financial issues, and specifically paying for lawyers, could be resolved” for him should he face further legal retribution for keeping his silence. He was told, the AFP asserts, that the money would likely come from companies associated with the ruling Workers’ Party.

Amaral allegedly explained that he interpreted the conversation to mean that Rousseff herself had given orders to reach out to him and keep him from testifying, and that, as the money would come from the Workers’ Party, Rousseff had approved such transactions as the head of the party.

Rousseff’s office issued a statement saying the president “vehemently and indignantly repudiates the attempt to associate her name with the personal initiative of Minister Aloizio Mercadante.”

Marzagão, the aide in question, confirmed the report to Brazilian newspaper O Globo. He said he was called in to Mercadante’s office and recorded the conversation on his iPhone, he says, because he found such a meeting “very strange,” as Mercadante had always shown “antipathy” towards Amaral before his arrest. Marzagão alleges two meetings took place: one on December 1 and one on December 9.

Amaral has become a star witness for the prosecution in the Petrobras case, nicknamed by Brazilian media “Operation Car Wash.” The senator is the first to provide evidence that Rousseff had personal involvement in the corruption scheme, and has also implicated her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Amaral suggested that some of the money stolen out of Petrobras coffers went to da Silva’s campaigns. As a result, police interrogated da Silva for almost four hours on Friday, an incident da Silva dismissed as a “media show.” Following the interrogation, information surfaced that da Silva may have used some Petrobras money to buy a luxury beach home, which da Silva denied purchasing.

On Tuesday, Brazil’s federal court officially accepted Amaral’s testimony as valid evidence in the Petrobras case. Prosecutors allege that a wide net of Workers’ Party officials have, for years, significantly overcharged clients for Petrobras projects and pocketed the extra cash for personal use and to bribe those in the know into silence. The New York Times estimates over $3 billion stolen out of Petrobras in the past decade.

Amaral has told police that Rousseff used some Petrobras money to fund her campaign and was aware of illegal activity at at least one Petrobras facility while serving as da Silva’s Minister of Energy.

Rousseff’s administration announced Wednesday the appointment of da Silva as her Chief of Staff, replacing Jaques Wagner. Such an appointment grants him immunity from the federal investigation, though Ministers may still face charges from the Supreme Court. Few expect Supreme Court justices nominated to the court by Rousseff and da Silva to pursue the investigation.

The scandal has triggered major backlash from the Brazilian people, millions of which participated in one of the largest protests in the nation’s history on Sunday, urging Rousseff to resign or face impeachment. 3.6 million people are estimated to have participated in the protests Sunday across 400 cities nationwide, with the largest congregations in Sao Paulo (1.4 million) and Rio de Janeiro (1 million).



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