Brazil top attorney denies Silva investigation

AP News

1/9/2013 1:27:45 PM - AP News

SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazil's attorney general's office on Wednesday denied newspaper reports that it has decided to open an investigation into whether popular former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva knew about the biggest corruption scheme in the country's history and financially benefited from it.

The Estado de S. Paulo newspaper reported that Attorney General Roberto Gurgel had decided to open the investigation into Silva. The publication, which last month was the first to report that testimony existed implicating Silva in the scheme, didn't cite its sources.

The Folha de S. Paulo newspaper carried a similar report Wednesday, also without citing sources.

But the attorney general's office said in a statement posted on its website: "There is no decision regarding a possible investigation of the case."

The statement also indicated that Gurgel wouldn't make any decision until all the paperwork connected to the massive corruption trial taken on by the Supreme Court is officially filed, which could take two months or more.

Silva remains a big political force in Brazil and any decision to investigate him could damage the ruling Workers Party. He could run for the presidency again in 2014 and has left the door open to that possibility, though he says he would do so only if his chosen successor, President Dilma Rousseff, decides not to run for re-election.

The trial surrounding the "mensalao," or big monthly allowance, corruption scheme saw 25 people convicted. Among the guilty were one-time top aides to Silva and businessman Marcos Valerio, who sought out prosecutors in September, after his conviction but before his sentencing in the case, to testify that Silva knew of the scheme and received payments.

It was the first time since the corruption scheme became public in 2005 that any of the accused had broken ranks to accuse Silva, who has always denied any involvement and was never charged in the case.

Valerio was sentenced to more than 40 years in prison and fined $1.3 million for being what the Supreme Court called the "operator" of the scheme that gave legislators cash handouts in return for their support of Silva's policies after he took office in 2003.

Valerio's detractors say the timing of his allegations against Silva indicates his testimony cannot be taken seriously.

Last month, Gurgel said that he would closely examine Valerio's September testimony, but stopped short of promising a full investigation into Silva.

"Marcos Valerio has frequently made statements that he considers bombastic and when we analyze them in depth, there's nothing there," Gurgel said last month. "But we're going to see what's behind this statement and whether it could be the basis for other investigations."

No allegations connected to the corruption trial have ever stuck to Silva, who left office after two terms in 2010 with an 87 percent approval rating.