Brazilian police have detained Antonio Palocci, a former finance minister and senior political figure in the last two governments, as part of a massive probe into the corruption scandal engulfing Petrobras, the state-owned oil company.
Prosecutors said Monday that Palocci is accused of acting as a liaison between Brazil’s largest engineering and construction conglomerate, Odebrecht SA, and the left-leaning Workers Party (PT) from 2006 to 2013.
“Evidence has surfaced ... that he was responsible for coordinating his political party’s receipt of surreptitious payments from the Odebrecht Group,” read the search and arrest warrant issued by anti-corruption judge Sergio Moro against Palocci.
Odebrecht paid 128 million reais ($39.5 million) in bribes to the PT and its representatives, including Palocci, between 2008 and 2013, according to prosecutors’ statements.
Palocci’s lawyer has denied any wrongdoing by his client.
Police also arrested two former aides of Palocci on Monday.
Palocci served as finance minister under the former president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is himself facing charges of taking bribes in a vast embezzlement scheme centered on Petrobras.
He was also chief of staff to Lula’s successor, Dilma Rousseff, who was ousted from presidency late last month by the Senate for what is said to be violating federal budget regulations.
Rousseff was succeeded by Michel Temer, a former vice president of the right wing who is implicated in another criminal probe related to elections violations.
Brazil is currently witnessing what is believed to be the country’s biggest anti-corruption push in its history.
On September 22, police arrested Guido Mantega who took office following Palocci and remained a finance minister for nearly nine years. Mantega was released shortly afterwards.
The detention of Palocci, who was captured on the same warrant as Mantega, is expected to be also brief.
Lula vows to ‘fight on’
On September 20, a federal judge ruled that former president Lula will stand trial for accepting bribes in connection with the same scandal.
Lula, the 70-year-old co-founder of the country’s powerful Workers Party, has said repeatedly that he is innocent.
Once again, He denied on Monday the charges brought against him and expressed his intention to seek another presidential term in 2018 and “to keep fighting for this country.”
“You will be my electoral support in 2018,” he told crowds during a campaign in western Rio de Janeiro on behalf of Jandira Feghali, a communist candidate running for mayor in local elections next Sunday.
Lula mocked the young corruption task force as “boy prosecutors,” saying his enemies “persecuted the PT to stop me being a candidate in 2018.”