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Brazil says two presidents ran criminal group

September 6, 2017

Two former leaders of Brazil have been accused of running a criminal organization in a massive corruption scheme. The charges are part of an unprecedented crackdown on corruption in Brazil.

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva speaks with former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff during the inauguration of the new National Directory of the Workers' Party, in Brasilia
Image: Reuters/U. Marcelino

Prosecutors on Tuesday accused two former Brazilian presidents of forming a criminal organization to extract vast sums in bribes.

Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and his successor Dilma Rousseff, as well as several members of their administrations, were accused of taking $480 million (€400 million) in bribes from 2002 to 2016 through their control of state bodies.

Lula became president in 2002 and Rousseff took over after his second term, before being impeached for illegally managing the federal budget in 2016.

Read more: Rio Olympic committee chief Carlos Alberto Nuzman paid $2 million bribe, police allege

Attorney General Rodrigo Janot accused Lula of leading the criminal organization, leveraging his presidential power to name people to public posts. Janot said Lula's influence over Rousseff allowed him to maintain this power even after he left office.

Janot filed a 230-page document with the Supreme Court, detailing a series of crimes involving state-owned oil firm Petrobras such as cartel formation, corruption and money laundering.

Lula was already sentenced to 9½ years in prison in a separate corruption case that he is appealing. The conviction precludes him from running for president in 2018. He is facing four other corruption cases and maintains that the charges against him were politically motivated.

Read more: Brazil judge freezes ex-President Lula's assets

These were the first criminal charges to be leveled against Rousseff.

Lula's Workers Party said in a statement that the charges were baseless and were being used to divert attention from other investigations, including one into a former federal prosecutor.

A representative for Rousseff said Janot had no evidence to support the allegations and called on the Supreme Court to guarantee the right to defend against them.

The charges arose from the wide-ranging Operation Car Wash investigation that uncovered a cartel of companies paying bribes to officials to secure Petrobras contracts. The organization allegedly abused other public entities such as the National Development Bank and the Planning Ministry.

Read more: Stress test for Brazilian democracy

Also on Tuesday, Brazilian police found suitcases and cardboard boxes filled with millions of dollars in cash in an apartment believed to be linked to former government minister Geddel Vieira Lima.

After several hours of counting, using seven cash counting machines, police said that "more than 33 million reais ($10.6 million or €8.9) have been counted."

"Given the amount still to go, the prediction is that the counting will take all night," federal police said in a statement.

The money was discovered during an investigation into fraud at state-owned bank Caixa Economica Federal, where Lima worked under President Rousseff.

aw/bw (AP, Reuters, dpa)