Brazil­ian party of­fi­cial ar­rested

Trea­surer’s detention brings the Petrobras cor­rup­tion scan­dal closer to Pres­i­dent Dilma Rouss­eff.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Vin­cent Bevins Bevins is a spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent.

SAO PAULO, Brazil — Au­thor­i­ties in Brazil ar­rested the trea­surer of Pres­i­dent Dilma Rouss­eff’s Work­ers’ Party on Wed­nes­day, as a cor­rup­tion scan­dal in­volv­ing the Petrobras oil com­pany deep­ens and con­tin­ues to con­trib­ute to po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic prob­lems in Latin Amer­ica’s largest coun­try.

Joao Vac­cari Neto was ar­rested at his home in Sao Paulo on Wed­nes­day morn­ing, ac­cord­ing to state­ments by po­lice and the Work­ers’ Party. The party said later that Vac­cari asked to be re­moved from his post. His ap­pre­hen­sion brings the widerang­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion closer to the top of Rouss­eff ’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, which is bat­tling low ap­proval rat­ings, op­po­si­tion calls for im­peach­ment and re­bel­lious mem­bers of her con­gres­sional coali­tion.

The gov­ern­ment has been dogged by ac­cu­sa­tions that bil­lions of dol­lars were fun­neled from the sta­te­owned oil com­pany to large con­struc­tion firms, which al­legedly passed some of the pay­ments to po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

“Dilma’s gov­ern­ment is fac­ing a sig­nif­i­cant cri­sis at the mo­ment, which was made clear when over a mil­lion peo­ple took to the streets last month and hun­dreds of thou­sands did the same this Sun­day de­nounc­ing her gov­ern­ment and cor­rup­tion,” said Ja­son Mar­czak, deputy direc­tor at the At­lantic Coun­cil’s Adri­enne Ar­sht Latin Amer­ica Cen­ter in Wash­ing­ton.

“She has tried to counter with a se­ries of anti-cor­rup­tion mea­sures, but the scan­dal has im­pli­cated mem­bers of her mul­ti­party con­gres­sional coali­tion, and it’s un­likely that she’ll be able to move for­ward now with this project or any other ma­jor leg­is­la­tion,” Mar­czak said. “She has very lit­tle po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal. The Petrobras scan­dal is dom­i­nat­ing ev­ery­thing.”

Since Rouss­eff was nar­rowly re­elected in Oc­to­ber, fed­eral po­lice have ar­rested ex­ec­u­tives at ma­jor con­struc­tion com­pa­nies and named high-rank­ing mem­bers of Congress in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, while the econ­omy also has taken a hit, erod­ing her party’s long-stand­ing sup­port base among lower-in­come vot­ers.

An April sur­vey con­ducted by the Datafolha polling ser­vice re­ported that 60% of Brazil­ians re­garded her ad­min­is­tra­tion as “bad” or “ter­ri­ble,” while 13% cat­e­go­rized it as “good” and 27% said it was “regular.”

Rouss­eff has not been di­rectly im­pli­cated in the scan­dal, but mem­bers of her large and un­wieldy rul­ing coali­tion have re­belled against her author­ity as the scan­dal un­folds, elect­ing a com­bat­ive and rel­a­tively con­ser­va­tive con­gres­sional leader from the cen­trist Brazil­ian Demo­cratic Move­ment Party. Law­mak­ers are mov­ing for­ward with a law al­low­ing com­pa­nies to treat more em­ploy­ees as in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tors, a shift the Work­ers’ Party op­poses and unions say rolls back work­ers’ rights.

Last week, pro-union pro­test­ers who broadly sup­port Rouss­eff ’s gov­ern­ment protested the bill in Brasilia, the cap­i­tal, and the demon­stra­tion ended in bloody clashes with con­gres­sional po­lice. On Wed­nes­day, la­bor groups protested the law in 19 states, block­ing high­ways and roads.

Un­til last year, Petrobras was Latin Amer­ica’s largest com­pany by mar­ket value, and the rev­e­la­tions of an al­leged kick­back scheme have con­trib­uted to a down­turn in the econ­omy. The in­ves­ti­ga­tion and grid­lock in Congress have limited Rouss­eff ’s abil­ity to re­spond to eco­nomic prob­lems, ana- lysts say.

In re­sponse to Vac­cari’s ar­rest Wed­nes­day, the Work­ers’ Party leader in the lower leg­isla­tive house, Siba Machado, said the act was po­lit­i­cal in na­ture, ac­cord­ing to a note pub­lished on the party’s web­site.

De­fend­ers of Rouss­eff have con­tended that cor­rup­tion has long been prac­ticed in Brazil, and that her party, which has con­trolled Brazil’s pres­i­dency since Luiz Ina­cio Lula da Silva took over in 2003, was the first to give in­ves­ti­ga­tors the in­de­pen­dence and per­mis­sion to fully bring the prac­tices to light.

“In my opin­ion this is a po­lit­i­cal ar­rest,” Machado said. “He didn’t raise any money out­side of the bounds set by Brazil­ian law. We trust in what was done.”

Jef­fer­son Bernardes AFP/Getty Images

PRO­TEST­ERS RALLY against Pres­i­dent Dilma Rouss­eff in Porto Ale­gre, Brazil, this week.

Evaristo Sa AFP/Getty Images

A LAW­MAKER al­leges that the ar­rest of Joao Vac­cari Neto, above, was po­lit­i­cal in na­ture.

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