By Lisa Flueckiger, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Judge Gilmar Mendes at Brazil’s Federal Electoral Court (TSE) asked prosecutors to investigate several leads hinting at potential illegal financing of President Dilma Rousseff’s re-election campaign last October. He claimed the President’s party received funds from Petrobras and also started to investigate payments to what could be a shell company.
Mendes first accusations came last Friday, August 21st, when he asked prosecutors to look into the donations to the president’s re-election campaign, citing signs that kickbacks from the Lava Jato (carwash) corruption scandal involving state-controlled oil giant Petrobras ended up financing Rousseff’s campaign.
He mentioned “signs of electoral wrongdoing and crimes” in his request and cited testimonies from plea deals, which state that illegal funds were given to the Workers’ Party (PT). According to Reuters, one of the testimonies came from Ricardo Pessoa, head of construction firm UTC Engenharia, who donated R$7.5 million to the campaign.
The PT states to have only accepted donations through legal channels. “The Workers’ Party refutes the charges saying we carried out illegal financial operations or participated in any corruption scheme. All donations made to PT occurred strictly within the law, through wire transfers, and they were later declared to the electoral justice.”
After an election in Brazil, parties submit their accounts to the TSE, which approves the financing. This also happened in the case of the PT in 2014. However, Judge Mendes claims that new evidence of what he claimed to be improper indirect financing has arisen with the investigation into Lava Jato, justifying looking again into already cleared material.
On Monday, August 25th Mendes started another investigation into potential wrongdoing by the PT, as a possible shell company ‘Angela Maria do Nascimento Sorocaba-ME’ received R$1.6 million from the campaign. According to the judge, there are no signs that this company, which had just opened in August 2014 and was hired to do boards and banners for the campaign, existed and/or performed any services.
PT lawyer Flávio Caetano refuted the claims. “The production of the contracted material was audited by the campaign and the documentation that proves the production and delivery of the material, was audited by the TSE. After rigorous inquiry, the TSE approved the accounts unanimously.”
Separately, opposition parties, mainly PSDB, have requested the electoral court to cancel last year’s election on grounds that the Workers’ Party campaign used illegal funds. Four of seven ministers at the court already approved to continue the procedure, including Mendes. However, any verdict on that matter could take months, or even years to be reached, as the court is frequently delayed.
Yet, President Dilma Rousseff is being attacked on several flanks, while already facing unpopularity among the general public. Another hit against the president are accusations before Brazil’s audit court (TCU) about meddling in her government’s fiscal accounts last year, something the opposition is trying to use as grounds for an impeachment.
The TCU will decide this Wednesday, August 26th if another extension of fifteen days is granted to the government in order to hand in more explanations about the accounts. This would be the second extension granted to the government, which will have to hand in all documents by Friday, August 28th if it is not approved.