Jailed aides to Brazil’s Lula say they funnelled millions to foreign election campaigns

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 May, 2017, 5:04pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 May, 2017, 10:11pm

Top aides to former Brazilian presidents Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff said they ferried millions of dollars in cash to finance presidential election campaigns in Venezuela, El Salvador and Panama, according to testimony made public Friday.

Joao Santana, a former treasurer for the ex-presidents’ Workers Party, was known as the “maker of presidents” for his success as a campaign strategist. He was jailed this year on corruption charges in Brazil’s largest ever corruption probe, known as Operation Car Wash.

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He and his wife Monica Moura are serving eight-year sentences for their part in the scandal, in which billions of dollars from the state oil company Petrobras were funnelled to businessmen and politicians.

In videotaped testimony released on Friday by Brazil’s Supreme Court, Moura said that in 2012 Nicolas Maduro, then vice-president and now president of Venezuela, personally handed her suitcases stuffed with a total of US$10 million in cash to help the re-election campaign of his mentor Hugo Chavez, who won the election but died shortly thereafter of cancer.

“Maduro paid me almost weekly in his own office and delivered the money himself, sometimes in the Miraflores palace” of the president, said Moura in her statement.

She said that on one day alone, Maduro handed her US$800,000 and provided her with an armoured car for her own security which looked like it belonged to “an American rock star”.

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Moura said the money for Chavez’s campaign was laundered through a slush fund known as “Box 2” and that Brazilian construction giants Odebrecht and Andrade Gutierrez – both at the heart of the Car Wash scandal – had contributed seven million and two million dollars respectively to help the re-election of the late Socialist leader.

Moura said it was Lula, a left-wing icon who ruled from 2003 to 2010 but who is currently on trial on numerous counts of corruption, who pushed the couple to help regional allies, including El Salvador’s leftist Mauricio Funes in 2009. She said that the three million dollars they were given to help in El Salvador -- “a country at the end of the world with war, earthquakes and no money” was provided by Odebrecht, whose former director has himself been jailed for corruption in the Car Wash case.

The couple also worked for former Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli, who is wanted on corruption charges in his own country and now lives in Miami.

Moura said Martinelli, who was president from 2009 to 2014, gave her half a million dollars in “operating costs” while she was working in Panama on behalf of the man he wanted to succeed him in power.

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Santana and Moura were both sentenced last February to eight years for money laundering in connection with the Car Wash scandal, and are now collaborating with prosecutors to reduce their sentences.

In their videotaped testimony, they said both Lula and his successor Rousseff – who was herself impeached for accounting irregularities last year – were fully aware of the illegal campaign financing of their Workers Party.

Lawyers for Lula dismissed the accusations as “lies”.