Raymond Colitt – Bloomberg, 8/1/2012
Brazil’s Supreme Court today begins hearing final arguments in a corruption case that threatens to tarnish the country’s most popular president and undermine support for the ruling Workers’ Party ahead of local elections.
After years of closed-door proceedings, justices and lawyers for the first time will publicly air charges against 38 defendants, including former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s chief of staff, accused of helping the PT embezzle public funds used to bribe lawmakers. The scandal, which led to calls for Lula’s impeachment in 2005, is known as the “mensalao,” Portuguese for the “big monthly payment” allies allegedly received in exchange for backing the government.
A former shoeshine boy, Lula oversaw Brazil’s fastest economic expansion in 25 years in 2010, capping off an eight- year presidency during which 35 million people rose out of poverty. A verdict condemning his lieutenants could diminish his legacy after he left office with an 87 percent approval rating.