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Brazilian leader may dodge charges in Petrobras bribery scandal

Major witness implicates President Rousseff but prosecutors doubt his testimony

A protest is held in front of Petrobras headquarters in Rio de Janeiro.
A protest is held in front of Petrobras headquarters in Rio de Janeiro.Leo Correa / AP

While Brazil anxiously waits for the Supreme Court to release the names of top politicians allegedly involved in the Petrobras corruption scandal, prosecution sources have told the country’s press that neither President Dilma Rousseff nor a major opposition leader will be involved in the case.

Attorney General Rodrigo Janot gave the top court a list of 54 names of prominent lawmakers and businessmen who he claims participated in a widespread kickbacks-for-contracts conspiracy at the state-owned oil company.

The court was expected to release the names later on Friday. But sources quoted by the Brazilian media say that Janot did not ask for Rousseff to be investigated, even though her name appears in police reports the attorney general used to formulate his allegations.

Opposition Social Democrat leader Aécio Neves was also implicated by a cooperating witness

Aécio Neves, who is the leader of the Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) and ran against Rousseff last year, was also implicated by a cooperating witness but won’t be charged, the sources said.

One of the main witnesses, Alberto Youssef – a money-laundering expert whom prosecutors believe is one of the architects of the Petrobras conspiracy and embezzled millions of dollars – accused Rousseff and her predecessor, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, of turning a blind eye to the corruption scheme even though they were aware it was taking place, the weekly Veja reported some weeks back.

Lula da Silva is one of the founders of Rousseff’s Workers Party (PT).

Attorney General Janot believes that Youssef’s testimony is weak and he has decided to evoke a Brazilian law that states presidents cannot be put on trial for actions that didn’t take place during their terms in office, the Brazilian media has reported.

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Still, it is up to the country’s Supreme Court to determine if the charges will stick on any of the 54 suspects in the scandal. Many of the names handed over by Janot are reportedly PT lawmakers.

Youssef is one of many witnesses who received a plea bargain in exchange for his testimony.

According to him, Neves received a payoff in 1990 from a public company that did business with Petrobras. Youssef, who reportedly attributes the information to a third person who is now dead, said that Neves’ sister acted as an intermediary.

After having found out that his name had surfaced, the PSDB leader, who is also a senator from Minas Gerais state, accused the government on Wednesday of trying to drag him into the investigation.

While the political sector anxiously awaits the release of the names, Rousseff’s government has already embarked on behind-the-scenes strategies. The president has called together all the leaders of the political parties who backed her during last year's campaign and reminded them of the high-level positions she has given them.

At the same time, the Senate decided to reject an important piece of legislation presented by Economy Minister Joaquim Levy, who has vowed to slash government spending.

The Rousseff administration is trying to prevent international ratings companies from downgrading the country’s debt. At the same time, it is also trying to keep the currency markets stable and has raised interest rates to curb inflation.

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