Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s political reputation hangs in the balance as a landmark trial into the “mensalão” scandal begins.
The popular ex-leader has denied knowledge of the alleged practice whereby legislators were paid a monthly retainer in exchange for their support in Congress.
If found guilty up to 38 former officials and associates of the ruling party could be convicted. Their relationships with Lula could prove his downfall.
Political analyst Mario Coelho spoke from outside the courtoom: “This could tarnish the image of ex-president Lula, since some of these defendants occupied important positions within the party. There is former congressman Genoino who was the party’s president; there is Delubio Soares who was the party’s treasurer, as well as other officials who had key jobs like former minister Jose Dirceu.”
Controversy has already struck day one of the trial as Justice Toffoli refused to excuse himself. He used to be a lawyer in Jose Dirceu’s office, who is the alleged mastermind of the scheme.
With a 77 percent approval rating, current President Dilma Rousseff is distancing herself from the scandal which destroyed some of her party’s biggest stars.
Local media is saturated with coverage of what some have dubbed “the trial of the century”. Protests in Rio last September show the extent of the outrage at the alleged corruption.
The case is scheduled to conclude before local elections in October, which could influence the results.