SAO PAULO (AP) — Pressure is growing for prosecutors to open an investigation into popular former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva amid new accusations he knew about a cash-for-votes in Congress scheme that has seen convictions of 25 people, including his one-time chief of staff.
Silva, who left office in 2010 with an 87 percent approval rating and was once called "the most popular politician on Earth" by President Barack Obama, has so far dodged accusations against him. He denies any wrongdoing in what is seen as the biggest corruption case in Brazil's history.
But now newspaper editorials, opposition politicians and some average Brazilian voters are saying they want to see the Attorney General's Office order an investigation into allegations made by a top figure in the corruption case that Silva approved of the scheme and used cash from it while in office.
"He's such a powerful figure in Brazil — you're telling me all this happened under his nose and he didn't know?" said Debora Barreto, a 30-year-old banker doing some window shopping in central Sao Paulo. "It's important this be investigated, there is too much money and power involved."
Working in Silva's favor is his popularity — polls indicate he could win if he ran again for the presidency in 2014. And he benefits from the low credibility of his accuser, businessman Marcos Valerio, who has been sentenced to more than 40 years in prison and fined $1.3 million for being what the Supreme Court called the "operator" of the scheme that put cash into the pockets of legislators in return for their support of Silva's policies after he took office in 2003.
"What most impresses me is how a person who has been convicted and sentenced ... all of a sudden, and in an act of desperation to lower his sentence, becomes a credible person," said Gilberto Carvalho, secretary to current President Dilma Rousseff, a Silva protege. "What this man has revealed concerning former President Lula is impressively false."
Any investigation into Silva would need to be opened by federal prosecutors.
A spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office said no statements on the new accusations against Silva would be made until the Supreme Court entirely closes its corruption trial that included 37 defendants, which may happen this week.
The scandal is known in Brazil as the "mensalao," or big monthly allowance, for the sums of up to $10,000 handed over to politicians. It came to light in 2005 while Silva was in office. The case has done little to tarnish the reputation enjoyed by Silva, who left office after two 4-year terms on Jan. 1, 2011, with the near-mythical status of Brazil's first working class president whose policies lifted millions out of poverty.