Brazil’s Worker’s Party (PT) has suffered a major blow after prosecutors charged vice presidential candidate Fernando Haddad with corruption.
The former Sao Paulo mayor will likely become the PT’s presidential candidate within days as embattled former President Luiz Inacio (Lula) da Silva was barred from running by the top electoral court last week.
Haddad’s campaign press team in a written statement on Tuesday denied he had committed any wrongdoing and said the prosecutors’ case was based on false plea-bargain testimony.
In the accusation, a prosecutor alleged that the PT accepted on behalf of Haddad a payment of 2.6 million reals ($481,095) to cover a debt accrued when he was campaigning for mayor of Sao Paulo in 2012.
The payments were allegedly made by representatives of construction conglomerate, UTC Engenharia, to a company that printed Haddad’s campaign materials.
Such payments, according to prosecutors, were aimed at obtaining illegal advantages for UTC as a contractor of public works in the city of Sao Paulo after Haddad had already taken office.
“There was a scheme of payments and money transfers in order to disguise the origin” of the cash, the prosecutor’s office said.
Haddad’s candidacy is not in danger of being blocked, as it would be virtually impossible for a trial to play out before the country’s presidential elections next month.
But the accusations will allow political rivals to rally against him just a month ahead of the first-round vote.
Lula, who served two largely popular terms between 2003 and 2010, has been jailed on a corruption conviction and cannot run in the presidential election to be held on October 7.
The former trade union leader has vehemently denied the corruption accusations and dismissed the charges as a political plot aimed at preventing him from standing in the elections.
The court, however, gave the PT a September 12 deadline to find a replacement candidate for what is the most uncertain Brazilian election in decades.
If Haddad is named as the PT’s candidate, Manuela d’Avila of Brazil’s Communist Party will assume the running-mate position, according to a previous agreement between the parties.
But unlike Lula, former Sao Paulo mayor Haddad commands little popular support.
This is not the first blow Lula or his party have suffered. In August 2016, Lula’s protege and successor Dilma Rousseff was impeached for breaking budgetary laws.
At that time she accused the parliament and segments of the judiciary law of launching a coup d’etat.
In the same year, President Temer was accused on corruption charges, but opposition legislators did not secure enough votes to put him on trial for charges of obstruction of justice and criminal organisation – allegations he denied.
Last year, Temer had a three percent approval rating, making him the most unpopular leader in Brazil’s history.
However, Lula, despite the conviction, recent scandals involving the PT and several corruption cases pending against him, still commands the race by a long stretch, with 39 percent of voter support, according to pollster Datafolha.
His nearest rival, far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro, has 19 percent.
The labour leader-turned-president oversaw a dramatic rise in Brazil’s economy from 2002-2010, pulling millions from poverty and making the country a prominent player on the world stage.