- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 11, 2005

RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazilian lawmakers are pushing for an investigation into a corruption scandal that implicates allies of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, an accusation that could dog him for months to come and handcuff his administration.

The scandal broke last month when Brazilian TV showed a video of a high-ranking postal official accepting a large amount of cash — purportedly a bribe from suppliers hoping to do business with the post office.

The scam was supposedly masterminded by Federal Deputy Roberto Jefferson, head of the left-wing Labor Party and a close ally of the leftist Lula da Silva administration.

Leaders in Mr. Lula da Silva’s ruling Workers’ Party (PT) were incensed by the charges and have been trying to thwart a federal investigation approved by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

PT Federal Deputy Paulo Rocha, an outspoken leader in the party, says the government is ready “to go to war” over the investigation and bar the proceedings, albeit legally.

“We are going to work within the law in order that the investigation doesn’t work,” Mr. Rocha said last week. The PT is appealing to a congressional judiciary committee to find a way to block the investigation.

Mr. Rocha characterized the accusations and investigation as a “clear attempt by the opposition to knock down the government” noting that the federal police and the prosecutor’s office were already looking into the matter.

But the scandal isn’t likely to be swept under the rug. Opposition leaders and even some PT members insist on moving forward with the probe, which could heighten tensions in the deeply divided Congress and dash the president’s hopes of passing several reform measures this year.

“The problem is that Lula’s agenda may be stymied in the Congress,” said David Fleischer, Brazil specialist and professor of political science at the University of Brasilia.

Mr. Lula da Silva hopes to pass tax and social security reform before preparing for next year’s re-election campaign. But before he can do that, he needs to rebuild his political alliances in the fractured Congress.

More than 20 parties spanning the political spectrum are represented in Brazilian politics, making coalitions imperative for any president.

But the scandal is strengthening the conservative opposition, and Mr. Lula da Silva’s popularity rating has dropped several points since the scandal broke.

“If the government continues attacking the opposition, nothing will be approved in the Congress,” warned Sen. Eduardo Azeredo from the center-right Social Democratic Party, which was in power for eight years under former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

During that time, the PT called for several corruption investigations into Mr. Cardoso and his administration.

“Now the shoe is on the other foot,” Mr. Fleischer said. “It’s the same old story. It’s just that the players have switched roles.”

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