Tuesday, November 1, 2005

RIO DE JANEIRO — Leaders in Brazil’s ruling Workers’ Party (PT) are livid over charges in a leading magazine that the Cuban government illegally contributed millions of dollars to the president’s 2002 campaign.

So incensed are PT higher-ups, that they have threatened to sue Veja magazine. Its cover story says up to $3 million made it into party accounts to help get President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva elected.

“We can no longer accept this type of empty accusation, leveled without concrete proof and coming from sources neither legitimate nor credible,” said PT lawmaker Henrique Fontana earlier this week.

The campaign finance accusations come amid an ongoing corruption probe implicating numerous PT leaders, lawmakers and allies in a scandal involving payoffs to congressmen in exchange for their support on key votes.

The magazine report will almost certainly animate private discussions on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas this week in Argentina, which will play host to leaders from every nation in the Western Hemisphere except Cuba.

If confirmed, the donation would constitute an egregious violation of Brazilian campaign finance law, which states candidates cannot receive contributions from foreign sources. It also calls for full disclosure of all campaign financing.

Both the Brazilian and Cuban governments have denied the accusation, though the left-leaning Mr. Lula da Silva has made no secret of his warm relationship with his Cuban counterpart, Fidel Castro.

The Veja article was based on statements by two former aides of Finance Minister Antonio Palocci, but offered no physical proof in the form of documents detailing the dollar amount or the means by which the funds were transferred to the PT.

The magazine quoted the former Palocci employees saying the money was smuggled into Brazil and then stored in boxes filled with liquor in Sao Paulo before being shipped to the capital, Brasilia.

The ex-aides said the funds then were channeled to the Lula da Silva campaign through a Cuban diplomat identified as Sergio Cervantes.

Opposition lawmakers called for an immediate investigation, with some calling for impeachment proceedings against the president.

“Lula and the PT have surpassed all limits,” said lawmaker Jose Carlos Aleluia from the right-wing Liberal Front Party, or PFL.

PT President Ricardo Berzoini denounced Veja and opponents of the PT saying the magazine had become a “pamphlet” for Brazil’s leading opposition parties, like the PFL and center-right Social Democrats, which were in power for eight years under previous Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

Some analysts like Christopher Garman of the New York-based Eurasia Group noted the Veja article was “very weak on evidence there is certainly a possibly it [Cuban campaign contributions to Mr. Lula da Silva] could have happened.”

He predicted further investigations into suspected improprieties by the PT. The congressional payoff scandal, after five months, has yet to implicate Mr. Lula da Silva personally.

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