By Margaret Janelle Hutchinson
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
Brasília, Brazil – Gilmer Mendes, a judge on Brazil’s high court, is accusing former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (“Lula”) of pressuring him to set aside a planned trial of the biggest scandal of his administration.
The scandal erupted during President Lula’s first term in 2005 and caused a number of top officials in the governing Worker’s Party to resign. In 2007, the Supreme Federal Tribunal (STF) accepted the complaint against 40 politicians suspected of involvement in the alleged scheme reported by then Congressman Roberto Jefferson (PTB), which became known as “mensalão” or “big monthly allowance”. Jefferson said lawmakers accepted base periodic payments in exchange for voting with the interests of President Lula’s government.
Over the weekend Judge Mendes told Veja magazine that Mr. da Silva, 66, asked him in April in Brasília, the capital, to postpone the trial, set for August. Judge Mendes said the pressure at the April meeting in Brasília included an insinuation by Mr. da Silva that Judge Mendes could be linked to another scandal, this one involving an opposition senator, Demostenes Torres, and his ties to a businessman, Carlos Augusto Ramos (better known by his nickname, Carlinhos Cachoeira or “Charlie Waterfall”), who is accused of running illegal gambling operations. The former president confirmed that the meeting in Brasília took place, but has adamantly denied the validity of Mendes’s accusations.
These mounting accusations of corruption at the highest levels cast a shadow over the current presidency of Dilma Rousseff. Ms. Rousseff is also of the Worker’s Party and was endorsed by President Lula as his successor. Scandals have forced seven cabinet ministers to resign in the past year, including Ms. Rousseff’s chief of staff. Ms. Rousseff issued a statement on Wednesday rejecting any threat of an “institutional crisis” between the judiciary and executive branches over the feud.
The president of the STF, minister Ayres Britto responded to the dispute between Judge Mendes and Mr. da Silva during a plenary session, stating that, “The judiciary is immune to such dissent. I have said repeatedly that we are experienced in coping with situations of all kinds. We did not lose the focus that it is our duty to judge the whole process – including the monthly allowance – with objectivity, impartiality, and serenity, ultimately aware of the evidence in the file.” Mr. Britto also expressed that the trial should take place as soon as possible.
Two judges on the 11-member court are expected to retire soon, so if the trial is delayed, Ms. Rousseff’s nominations to fill the vacancies could influence the outcome, raising concerns over the Workers Party’s influence over the trial.
For further information, please see:
Primeira Edição – Lula já se encontrou com cinco ministros do STF em 2012 – 31 May 2012
Jornal do Brasil – Ayres Britto reafirma que não existe crise institucional por causa do Mensalão – 30 May 2012
The New York Times – Brazil’s Political Class Jolted by Claim That Ex-Leader Pressed a High Court Judge – 30 May 2012
The Washington Post – Supreme Court justice accuses former Brazilian president Silva of pressure to set aside trial – 29 May 2012