- Arrested executive allegedly mentioned them in phone messages
- They deny breaking the law; one says he is 'at ease'
Three of President Dilma Rousseff’s cabinet members, including her top political adviser, are coming under scrutiny for their possible involvement in a corruption scandal that has landed some of Brazil’s most powerful people in jail. All three deny wrongdoing.
Brazilian police found mention of the ministers in messages on the mobile phone of Jose Adelmario Pinheiro Filho, a businessman in jail for corruption, newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo reported. The police were looking into the messages as part of an investigation of kickbacks between construction companies and political parties.
The messages should provide enough evidence for prosecutors to open a formal investigation into the ministers, the paper reported on Friday, citing classified documents. The cabinet members are Chief of Staff Jaques Wagner, Social Communications Minister Edinho Silva and Tourism Minister Henrique Alves. Wagner and Silva said in press statements they acted within the law. Alves also denies wrongdoing, according to O Estado.
Pinheiro Filho, the former president of construction company OAS SA who was sentenced to 16 years in prison, was in direct contact with Wagner about campaign donations and political appointments in the politician’s home state of Bahia, according to the messages. Wagner wrote on Twitter he has always acted in the best interest of Brazil and Bahia, and that he’s “completely at ease” about his political activities.
Opening an official probe of Rousseff’s chief of staff would bring Brazil’s biggest corruption scandal in history to the halls of the presidential palace. While Rousseff herself doesn’t face accusations of graft, an investigation of her closest advisers could further destabilize her fragile ruling coalition, said Cristiano Noronha, vice president of consulting firm Arko Advice.
“It’s not yet dangerous, but the investigation of Jaques Wagner is an embarrassment for the president,” Noronha said. “It creates an uncomfortable situation.”
The Justice Ministry will investigate the leak of classified information to the press, it said in a statement. The federal police is technically subordinated to the ministry, but acts with operational independence.
The press office for Prosecutor-General Rodrigo Janot didn’t have an immediate comment when asked to confirm the newspaper report.