Brazil’s Supreme Court has ordered former leaders of the ruling Workers’ Party to begin serving sentences following landmark convictions over a congressional vote-buying scheme in a country with a long history of political corruption.
Jose Dirceu, a party founder and former chief of staff to former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, turned himself in to federal police on Friday evening to begin serving a prison sentence of more than 10 years.
He is one of 12 ordered to serve time over a scandal that nearly toppled the government during the first of the left-leaning party’s three administrations.
Jose Genoino, a former party president and a congressman on leave because of poor health, also turned himself in to start a nearly seven-year sentence.
Brazilian news broadcasters showed him leaving his house accompanied by his wife.
He did not speak but published a letter on his web page saying he was “indignant – and I reiterate I am innocent; I have not committed any crime.
“There is no proof for what they are accusing me of,” Genoino said, insisting he had been a victim of a media-driven witch hunt because of his position in the party.
Delubio Soares, a former party treasurer who faces an eight-year sentence, was expected to appear as well.
Payments to lawmakers
While the trial wrapped up last year, the court has only now begun imposing the first of the sentences for crimes ranging from corruption to racketeering to money laundering.
The scandal emerged after an embittered Workers Party ally, who is also one of those convicted, spoke out about the scheme, which involved monthly payments to lawmakers in exchange for support in Congress.
Along with bad public services and a sluggish economy, disgust with corruption was one of the many factors that led hundreds of thousands of Brazilians to take to the streets in a series of mass protests in June.
Though the protests have grown smaller, the demonstrations are still ongoing and are likely to flare back up ahead of presidential elections next October, especially when global attention turns to the country as it hosts the World Cup of soccer in June and July.