Latin America & Caribbean

Brazil 'Mensalao' corruption trial to be reopened

'Mensalao' defendants (L to R): former Treasurer of the Workers Party (PT) Delubio Soares; former Chief of Staff of the Brazilian Government Jose Dirceu and and former President of PT Jose Genoino
Image caption Defendants (L to R) Delubio Soares, Jose Dirceu and Jose Genoino can now appeal

Brazil's Supreme Court has narrowly ruled in favour of reopening the country's biggest corruption trial.

The court agreed that 12 of 25 people convicted in a scheme using public funds to pay parties for political support could have appeals heard.

The decision is set to anger many who expected the sentences to be upheld, correspondents say.

But judge Celso de Mello, who broke an earlier deadlock, said justice should not yield to popular pressure.

In a two hour-long statement, Mr Mello argued for the right of appeals on the grounds of human rights and the Brazilian law.

"For them to be exempt and independent, the judges cannot yield to the popular will, to the masses," he said.

'Brazil in the bin'

Last week, five judges voted to deny appeals against last year's Supreme Court Decision.

Another five voted in favour.

The prospect of the tie-breaking vote of judge Celso de Mello had the nation holding its breath for nearly a week, correspondents say.

But the decision to reopen the Mensalao trial, which took four months to conclude in 2012, is controversial.

"Today we march to [Brazil's capital] Brasilia to demand our rights, because Celso de Mello has just thrown Brazil in the bin," a user wrote on Twitter.

Image caption A small group of protesters demonstrated against the right to an appeal

In Brasilia, protesters demonstrated against the appeal presented by the convicted in last year's trial.

The convictions in the trial prompted by one of the biggest corruption scandals in the country's recent history, known as the "Mensalao" (big monthly allowance), had been close, with at least 4 of the 10 Justices ruling against their convictions, in December 2012.

The new trial will examine part of the complaints faced by some of the most high-profile accused, such as Jose Dirceu, the chief of staff to former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and parliamentarians Joao Paulo Cunha and Jose Genoino, three top politicians of the ruling Workers' Party (PT).

The former leader, however, was cleared of any wrong-doing.

They deny the corruption charges.

Three other politicians have been stripped of office by the trial.

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.

Lula himself was not 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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