By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – With less than a month to go before Brazil’s Presidential elections, illegal kickback accusations made by a former Petrobras director, Paulo Roberto Costa, are shaking up the presidential race. Reportedly, Costa mentions more than thirty names, including politicians, congressmen, governors and state ministers, who he says benefited from kickbacks from contracts with the state-controlled petroleum giant.
Mr. Costa, responsible for Petrobras’ refining and supply unit was jailed in March accused of money laundering. He has now entered a plea-bargaining deal with prosecutors for a lighter sentence by naming some of those who benefited from illegal money schemes while he was a director at Petrobras (2004-2012). If found guilty of the money-laundering scheme, Costa could spend up to thirty years in jail.
Among the politicians named by Costa are current Mines and Energy Minister, Edson Lobão, both Senate and House Presidents, Renan Calheiros and Henrique Eduardo Alves and former presidential candidate, Eduardo Campos, who died in a plane crash last month. Costa was quoted over the weekend by major national newspapers as stating, “There was a politician knocking at my door every single day.”
According to Veja magazine during a forty-hour interview with the Federal Police, Costa also accused current and former governors of states where Petrobras has large projects. He is said to have told agents that companies doing business with Petrobras were forced to give money to the scheme.
Reaction to Costa’s accusations has been swift. According to the country’s major news outlets, all those accused who decided to speak out deny any wrongdoing.
Marina Silva, former Environment Minister in the Lula Administration and now tied for first place against incumbent Dilma Rousseff in October’s presidential elections, defended her former running mate, Campos, against the accusations.
“The fact that there was a Petrobras project in his state (Pernambuco) does not give one the right to put his name on a list of those who committed irregularities,” she said during her campaign trail over the weekend. According to Silva, Rousseff has “political responsibility” in regards to the Petrobras kickback scheme and that her administration was “complicit” with the potential irregularities.
The Rousseff Administration dismissed the accusations stating that they were just “unfounded rumors” by “desperate” people trying to change the direction of the presidential election. “When and if I have solid facts I will take the appropriate action,” said Rousseff answering a reporter during a campaign event.
Third placed candidate, Aecio Neves, had harsh words for the President. “It is very hard to believe that Dilma (Rousseff) knew nothing about this,” he said over the weekend. Although he stated that he would need to have more facts before making a statement, Neves said in his presidential campaign YouTube channel that this episode was an example of “the PT government sponsoring an assault on our public companies to maintain its power.”
The latest polls show incumbent Dilma Rousseff (PT – Workers Party) technically tied with Marina Silva (PSB – Socialist Party) and Aecio Neves (PSDB – Social Democrat Party) in third place.