Thursday, March 03, 2016

Brazil President Fights Ally Over Corruption Allegation

Brasília- - -Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's government reacted angrily Thursday after a senior member of her Workers' Party was reportedly preparing to testify that she interfered in a huge corruption probe.

Senator Delcidio do Amaral was arrested last November on charges of involvement in a vast embezzlement and bribery conspiracy at national oil company Petrobras.

In a potentially bombshell report, IstoE magazine said Amaral is now negotiating a plea bargain with prosecutors in which he would testify that Rousseff obstructed the probe into Petrobras, dubbed Operation Car Wash. He was also allegedly set to testify against Rousseff's predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Although the report could not be confirmed, ministers swiftly lashed out.

"If there is this supposed plea bargain, we have a pile of lies," Jose Eduardo Cardozo, Brazil's solicitor general, said in a televised speech.

Cardozo said testimony in a plea bargain would amount to "selective truth, or it could be nothing but lies."

Rousseff's chief of staff, Jaques Wagner, said the president was "indignant" about the report, Globo news site said.

Although Wagner did not confirm the reported plea bargain, he said Rousseff was "worried" about such leaks. "It doesn't seem reasonable to me that things happen like this," he was quoted as saying.

If substantiated, Amaral's testimony against his former close allies could be dangerous for Rousseff, who is deeply unpopular after presiding over a severe recession.

The former leftist guerrilla already faces an impeachment procedure on charges that she broke fiscal laws, and a separate probe into the funding of her 2014 re-election that could lead eventually to an early end to her mandate.

- Anti-corruption is priority -

The embattled president did not mention the furor directly, but gave a speech insisting on her record of backing the Car Wash probe, which has landed a slew of Workers' Party figures and allies in trouble.

"I want to emphasize that fighting corruption continues to be my government's first priority," she said. "No government has taken such a hard and efficient line against corruption as mine has. And it will continue like that."

Rousseff has most recently come under criticism since Cardozo's resignation on Monday as justice minister to move into his new solicitor general's post.

Officials said there was no political motivation in the switch to a new justice minister. But Cardozo is reported to have become fed up with pressure from fellow Workers' Party figures angry over a probe into Lula.

Rousseff said that Cardozo's departure did not signal any shift in the policy of allowing justice ministers full freedom.

"The ministerial changes do not affect the role that the ministry of justice... exercises in my government," she said.

Lula, who was president from 2003-2010 and remains one of Brazil's most influential figures, is being investigated over alleged ownership of a luxury apartment and a country house.

The properties, which he says do not belong to him, were allegedly renovated by companies accused in the Petrobras corruption scheme.

Both Lula and Rousseff are also facing political heat after the arrest of their former campaign manager, Joao Santana, who allegedly took money originally embezzled from Petrobras.

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