Brazil prosecutor seeks obstruction of justice probe against Rousseff

Brazil’s top prosecutor has asked the Supreme Court to open a probe into alleged obstruction of justice by President Dilma Rousseff, Brazilian media reported, in a potentially explosive twist to the country’s political crisis.

According to reports in the Globo, Folha de Sao Paulo and Estadao dailies, chief prosecutor Rodrigo Janot has requested authority to open an investigation into the embattled president and also her predecessor and key political ally Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Officials could not immediately be reached to confirm the reports, published Tuesday.

But if confirmed, the probe into Rousseff would be on top of a separate investigation that Janot earlier Tuesday asked the Supreme Court to open against Lula and three of Rousseff’s ministers in relation to corruption at the state oil giant Petrobras.

Rousseff — who could face the start of an impeachment trial on separate charges as early as next week — allegedly colluded with Lula to obstruct a judge leading a huge investigation into corruption at Petrobras by top politicians and executives, Janot was quoted as stating.

Rousseff’s current attorney general, Jose Eduardo Cardozo, is also implicated.

At issue is an attempt by Rousseff to name Lula, who retains broad influence despite having left office, to a post in her government. Rousseff said she wanted him to lead her defense against impeachment.

But prosecutors, who wire-tapped the president’s phone conversation with Lula, said the appointment aimed to obtain ministerial immunity for the ex-president.

Lula, who is fighting corruption charges related to the Petrobras scheme, risks being prosecuted by the main investigating team led by Judge Sergio Moro.

However, if he were in the government, he would gain limited immunity, with only the Supreme Court able to handle his case.

The Supreme Court is now preparing to rule on whether he can take his post.

Janot’s filing, if confirmed, would ramp up pressure on Lula and Rousseff.

Prosecutors looking into the controversy have decided that Lula’s nomination was part of a “scenario” involving several attempts to obstruct Moro’s investigation into the Petrobras scheme, Estadao newspaper reported.

Rousseff is separately accused in Congress of having illegally manipulated government budget accounts and could be suspended from office next week by the Senate so a trial can get underway.

A lower court, headed by a judge in the town of Curitiba, has been leading the Petrobras probe, uncovering what is believed to be Brazil’s biggest ever corruption scandal, featuring a network of politicians who took bribes to facilitate inflated Petrobras contracts for crooked construction companies and others.

But criminal cases involving government ministers and other high-ranking officials are handled exclusively by the Supreme Court.

The latest target list included Lula, Rouseff’s chief of staff Jacques Wagner, Political Affairs Minister Ricardo Berzoini and Social Communications Minister Edinho Silva.

It also names opponents of Rousseff, notably the speaker of the lower house of Congress, Eduardo Cunha, who is from the PMDB and has spearheaded the impeachment proceedings against the president.

Senator Jader Barbalho from the PMDB was also on the list.

But the main focus was on Lula, the founder of Rousseff’s leftist Workers’ Party, her main mentor and a hopeful to replace her by returning to power in 2018 elections.

Lula is already facing charges in a separate case related to the Petrobras scandal, but the latest move seeks to draw him and the other high-profile politicians directly into the central probe focused on the corruption scheme.

The request aims to include them in the main inquiry which is into a criminal organization,” a spokesman for the Supreme Court told AFP in Brasilia.

Janot was quoted as saying by Folha newspaper that the vast Petrobras scheme “could never have functioned for so many years and in such a broad and aggressive form under the federal government without participation of ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.”

source: AFP