Brazil Mensalao trial: Lula aide Jose Dirceu guilty

image source, AFP
image captionJose Dirceu (right) was one of President Lula's closest advisers

The Supreme Court in Brazil has found a top aide of the former Brazilian president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, guilty of corruption.

Jose Dirceu, Lula's chief of staff from 2003 to 2005, was convicted of running a scheme that used public funds to buy support from opposition parties in congress.

He denies the scheme ever existed and says the allegations are political.

Lula, who remains hugely popular in Brazil, was not implicated in the case.

The former head of Lula's Workers Party, Jose Genoino, and its treasurer, Delubio Soares, were also convicted by a majority of the Supreme Court justices.

They potentially face between two and 12 years in jail, but the sentences will not be passed until the whole hearing is concluded.

A lengthy appeal process is also likely.

Mr Dirceu is a former left-wing rebel who fought Brazil's military government in the 1970s and was eventually sent to exile in Cuba.

Along with Lula, he was one of the founders of the Workers Party (PT) and was one of the former president's closest political allies.

Mr Dirceu has said right-wing media and politicians fabricated the allegations to bring down the government.

The scandal, which erupted in 2005, for a time threatened to engulf the Lula administration but he was comfortably re-elected as president the following year.

Campaign debts

The case became known as the Mensalao or the "Big Monthly" allowance.

The central allegation is that illegal payments and benefits were paid to members of Congress in return for support for the government in crucial votes.

image source, Reuters
image captionIt took many years for the case to get to the Supreme Court in Brasilia

The trial, with 37 defendants, is seen as a key test of Brazil's ability to hold its politicians to account for corruption.

Some of the defendants, who include politicians and business executives, say the scandal is being exploited by opposition politicians and sections of the media.

They say that the scheme was simply a way of paying off campaign debts which, while illegal, is common in Brazilian politics.

Others deny any involvement in buying political support.

Lula is not directly implicated in the case and has denied any knowledge of the scheme.

He left office at the end of 2010 with huge approval ratings, and remains a popular figure in Brazilian political life.

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