Conviction of top politicians in corruption cases is rare in Brazil

In a sign of a crackdown on corruption, Brazil began on Friday the process of sending to jail some senior figures of the ruling Workers Party (PT), who were convicted last year in the country’s biggest corruption scandal which broke out in 2005.

A day after the Supreme Court issued arrest orders for 12 of the 25 politicians, bankers and businessmen convicted in the case known as the Mensalao (big monthly allowance), Jose Dirceu, former chief of staff of ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, surrendered to police in Sao Paulo. Other defendants, including José Genoíno, a former president of Workers Party, too did so.

Though both Dirceu and Genoíno have denied their involvement in the scheme under which monthly allowances were paid to opposition politicians for supporting Mr. Lula’s government, their trial, conviction and jailing are being seen as a test of Brazil’s resolve to check corruption.

The main allegation was they organised illegal payments to members of Congress for supporting the government in crucial votes.

The scandal, also known as cash-for-votes scheme, came to light in 2005 but the sentences were handed down in 2012. Mr. Lula hasn’t been implicated and he remains popular across the country.

In an August 2005 address to the nation, he had apologised for the scandal, saying he felt betrayed by members of his party and vowed that “all those found responsible will be brought to justice”.

The court’s decision could be a turning point for Brazil as it dispels the notion that the convicted politicians and bankers would always find legal loopholes to avoid jail time. But both Dirceu and Genoíno, who have led the Workers Party at different times, have denied any involvement. On Friday, Genoíno remained defiant as he entered a police station.

He raised his right fist and shouted “I am innocent” to the television cameras.

In a statement, Dirceu, who faces nine years in jail, said he would comply with the court order but “not without protesting and denouncing the unfair nature of the conviction”.

Genoino, who was jailed by the military dictatorship in the 1970s, also released an open letter saying he considers himself a “political prisoner”.

“With indignation, I abide by the decisions of the Supreme Court. What do they accuse me of? There is no evidence,” he wrote.

Conviction of top politicians in corruption cases is rare in Brazil since they enjoy special protections, including a measure of immunity from prosecution, and the multiple opportunities for appeals often allow defendants with good lawyers to delay sentences for years.

But because of the gravity of the case, some lawmaker protections were lifted in this particular case.

Also, the government and judiciary have been under pressure from the middle class who have become less tolerant of corruption. In June and July, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets protesting against corruption.

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