Brazil president announces anti-corruption measures

AP News
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Posted: Mar 18, 2015 3:27 PM
Brazil president announces anti-corruption measures

SAO PAULO (AP) — President Dilma Rousseff announced a series of anti-graft measures on Wednesday in the wake of Sunday's massive nationwide rallies calling for her impeachment and protesting rampant corruption in Latin America's largest country.

"We have the duty and obligation to fight impunity and corruption," Rousseff said a nationally broadcast speech.

Rousseff announced the measures the same day a poll showed that her approval rating had plummeted to a new low. The survey by the Datafolha polling institute showed that the president's popularity dropped even among Brazil's poorest, where her support has been always been strong.

Among the measures Rousseff announced were the criminalization of slush funds used to finance election campaigns, the seizure of assets of people found guilty of corruption, and the requirement that government officials have no record of crimes.

"This is a decisive step to expand the government's capacity and power to prevent and combat corruption and impunity," Rousseff said.

Sunday's protest marches were sparked by anger over a sprawling corruption case involving Petrobras, Brazil's state-owned oil company.

Federal prosecutors say they've uncovered Brazil's biggest graft case yet in a kickback scheme at Petrobras, with at least $800 million in bribes paid by construction and engineering firms to politically appointed former executives at the oil company, all in exchange for winning inflated contracts.

Investigators say some of the money was funneled back to the campaign coffers of the Workers' Party and its allies. Dozens of congress members and some former executive branch officials, including two former chiefs of staff to Rousseff, are under investigation.

The president, who served as chairwoman of Petrobras' board during several years when the graft occurred, is not implicated.

In the Datafohla poll, 62 percent of respondents said Rousseff's government was "bad" or "terrible," compared with 44 percent a month ago. Thirteen percent of respondents rated her government as "great" or "good."

Datafolha interviewed 2,842 people March 16-17. The poll had a margin of error of 2 percentage points.

It was the worst popularity rating for a Brazilian president since 1992 when then-President Fernando Collor was impeached for corruption.

Switzerland has also been involved in investigations involving Petrobras and prosecutors there said Wednesday said that more than $120 million that was frozen as part of the probes will be returned to Brazil.

The federal prosecutor's office in Bern said it has found over 300 accounts at more than 30 banks in Switzerland that apparently were used to process bribes being investigated in Brazil. In total, it has frozen assets totaling about $400 million.

The beneficiaries of the accounts found in Switzerland, most of them in the name of companies, are senior executives at Petrobras or its suppliers, financial intermediaries and, whether directly or indirectly, Brazilian or other foreign companies that paid bribes, Swiss prosecutors said.

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Associated Press writer Geir Moulson contributed to this report from Berlin.