The treasurer of Brazil’s ruling Workers’ Party, Joao Vaccari, has stepped down, after being arrested over corruption at the state-run oil giant Petroleo Brasileiro SA.
Vaccari is the closest ally of President Dilma Rousseff to have been arrested in the broadening scandal.
Wednesday’s arrest places further pressure on the president, who has faced street protests, impeachment calls and plummeting opinion ratings since her re-election four months ago, BBC News reported.
But Rousseff, who served as the head of Petrobras for much of the period when the corruption took place, has not been implicated in the scandal.
Vaccari’s arrest could bring the investigation closer to the president if the money allegedly siphoned from Petrobras is found to have helped finance her 2010 or 2014 election campaigns, according to Reuters.
Federal police said they arrested Vaccari in his home in Sao Paulo and drove him to the southern city of Curitiba. There he will stand trial for alleged graft, political kickbacks and money laundering.
The Workers’ Party deplored the arrest and announced that Vaccari was leaving his position for legal reasons. A party statement expressed confidence in his innocence.
Federal judge Sergio Moro ordered Vaccari’s arrest after five defendants testified in plea bargain agreements that engineering firms hired by Petrobras had overcharged the oil firm and passed on profits to the Workers’ Party via Vaccari, Reuters said.
“Anyone responsible for such severe crimes, including using the position of treasurer of a political party to raise criminal funds and corrupt the political system, is a risk to public order,” Moro wrote in a court order.
The investigation threw her government into a crisis at the start of her second term this year when it widened to include 47 politicians, all but one from her governing coalition.
Former Petrobras executives have said Vaccari moved over US$200 million in graft money skimmed off overpriced construction and engineering contracts.
Vaccari denied the accusations last week before a congressional inquiry commission. He and the Workers’ Party say all campaign donations from the construction and engineering companies were legal and registered with electoral authorities.
Federal prosecutor Carlos Fernando dos Santos Lima said investigators had since found incriminating evidence. One of the firms paid 1.5 million reais (US$487,000) to a graphics company that never provided any services, and the money ended up as a donation to the party, he said at a news conference.
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