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A Brazilian court has sentenced former presidential chief of staff Jose Dirceu to 23 years in prison for corruption, money-laundering and conspiracy related to the state-run Petrobras oil scandal.
Dirceu served under ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva between 2003 and 2005. He is the most senior Workers’ Party member to be tried and sentenced in this scandal.
In March, former President Lula da Silva was questioned by police and his house raided as part of the fraud inquiry.
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Dirceu was previously sentenced in 2012 by the Supreme Court to over 10 years in prison for running a congressional vote-buying operation.
Prosecutors alleged that Dirceu was mastermind behind the Petrobras kickback scheme and that he took bribes while in office and even from behind bars.
“Not even a conviction by the country’s highest court could inhibit criminal relapse,” federal judge Sérgio Moro wrote in his sentencing decision, noting that Dirceu had been taking part in the bribery scheme even after he was convicted for vote-buying.
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One of the key facets of the corruption scandal was the collusion between Petrobras and a small group of companies to overcharge for services in the energy sector. Petrobras officials received bribes and shared kickbacks with politicians, many of them in the ruling Workers’ Party. Estimates put the total bribes at close to US$3 billion.
So far, dozens of high level executives and government officials have been investigated and sentenced for their role in the affair.
Last week, the scandal Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was suspended from office following a senate vote to initiate her impeachment trial on corruption allegations that lead back to the Petrobras scandal. The speakers of both country’s houses of Congress are included in the probe.
By James Burgess of Oilprice.com
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