Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Lula to Face Investigation into ‘Mensalão’ Scandal Links

After successfully managing to avoid any connection to the “mensalão” vote-buying scheme during the recent Supreme Court trial of several of his closest allies, it appears that former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will face an investigation into his role in the scandal after all. Brazil’s Estado de S. Paulo reports that the country’s attorney general, Roberto Gurgel, has ordered a formal investigation into claims that Lula knew about the mensalão scheme during his presidency, and even benefited from it financially.

These allegations were first made by businessman Marcos Valerio, who was found guilty of serving as a key middleman in the scheme and sentenced to 40 years’ imprisonment in October. In sworn testimony given prior to his sentencing, Valerio said that he transferred funds to Lula for personal expenses at least twice.

When this testimony leaked to the media in December, Lula called the accusation a lie, and Attorney General Gurgel himself expressed skepticism about the allegation, saying “Valerio often makes reference to declarations that he considers bombastic and, when we investigate them in depth, that’s not the case.” Now that the Attorney General has officially opened an investigation into the matter, however, it appears there is at least some evidence to support Valerio’s claim.

The investigation into Lula is not entirely unexpected. Considering that his ex-chief of staff, the former president of his party and a number of figures in his administration have all been convicted of involvement in the mensalão scandal, it is perhaps more surprising that it took so long for the government to investigate Lula’s role.

Yet even if the former leader is found innocent in the mensalão case, he has been implicated in another emerging scandal, this time centered on charges that an aide of his oversaw a bribery and influence-peddling scheme.  

News Briefs
  • The Venezuelan government has officially announced that President Hugo Chavez will not be sworn for his new term on Thursday. In a letter to the National Assembly, Vice President Nicolas Maduro wrote that Chavez would take his oath of office at a later date, and would do so in front of the Supreme Court. In the letter, Maduro said that the president would invoke Article 231 in the Venezuelan Constitution, which sets forth January 10th as the inauguration date but fails to specify the consequences of the president-elect not swearing in on that day. As Greg Weeks of Two Weeks’ Notice blog points out, it only says that the oath must be taken in front of the Supreme Court. El Universal reports that the National Assembly then passed a motion allowing Chavez to postpone his inauguration for any time necessary for recovery. The AP notes that opposition lawmakers in the country questioned why the letter was signed by Maduro and not Chavez, as it may suggest the president is physically or mentally unable to do so.
  • BBC Mundo assesses the constitutionality of the decision to postpone Chavez’s inauguration, and reports on the likelihood of the Supreme Court making a ruling on the issue. Because most of the justices on the Court were appointed by legislative allies of the president, the opposition believes that any ruling would likely be biased towards the government.
  • With the prospect of Maduro’s succession of Chavez becoming more and more likely, many in the region are starting to look at what changes a Maduro presidency would bring to Venezuela’s foreign policy. So far it seems any shifts will be minimal. El Nuevo Diario spoke with the Venezuelan ambassador to Nicaragua, Maria Alejandra Avila, who told the paper that Venezuela’s economic aid to the Central American country (which some view as key to President Daniel Ortega’s popularity) would continue under a Maduro government. As the Washington Post editorial board has pointed out, Maduro is also seen as a major proponent of providing subsidized oil to Cuba, and would likely continue to do so if he is elected president.
  • The Colombian Attorney General’s Office has re-opened an investigation into ex-President Alvaro Uribe’s links to paramilitary groups during his time as governor of Antioquia province in the 1990s. According to El Tiempo, the case is based on testimony by former United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) member Juan Guillermo Monsalve, who says that Uribe was himself an active paramilitary member and used his position as governor to help found an AUC bloc in Antioquia. In a statement via his personal Twitter account, Uribe denied the charges, which he said amounted to “slander from imprisoned criminals.”
  • Honduras Culture and Politics blog provides an update on the crisis over the separation of powers in Honduras, noting that the four new Supreme Court justices who were controversially appointed last month have recused themselves from an appeal of their own appointment. Meanwhile, the Honduan human rights ombudsman has released a report on the crisis which finds that Congress’s decision to dismiss the four previous judges was arbitrary and illegal, La Tribuna reports.
  • Two months after a plan to create privately-run cities in Honduras was ruled unconstitutional, the AP profiles a similar “private city project” in Guatemala. Unlike the Honduran plan, however, the Guatemalan proposal is geared almost exclusively to economic elites, and closely resembles a gated resort community.
  • Time takes a look at the apparent resurgence of Mexico’s Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional (EZLN), the guerrilla group-turned -social movement based in the southern state of Chiapas. On December 21st, Zapatista supporters marched through the city of San Cristobal de las Casas to mark the 15th anniversary of an indigenous massacre, and are now pressuring the government to adhere to the terms of a 1996 peace treaty granting them control over natural resources in the area.
  • An interesting editorial in the Chicago Tribune sheds light on Jamaica’s massive public debt, describing the country as “the Greece of the Western Hemisphere.” Jamaica has more debt per GDP, and pays more interest, than any other country, according to the authors.
  • Despite Chilean President Sebastian Piñera’s decision to increase the number of security forces in the troubled southern region of Araucania, at least two arson attacks have occurred in the past several days, the AFP reports. Piñera is meanwhile pressuring Chilean lawmakers to allow him to declare a state of emergency in the region, a move which leftist legislators see as discriminatory against the Mapuche minority there.

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