Dilma Rousseff, the president of Brazil, moved quickly and without considering political allies ordered the dismissal on Saturday of all government officials allegedly involved in a bribery ring, including the country’s deputy attorney general.
Federal police raided government offices in Brazilian capital Brasília and São Paulo on Friday and arrested six people for running an influence-peddling ring that sold government approvals to businessmen in return for bribes.
Among those under investigation is the former personal secretary of ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Rosemary de Noronha, who has headed the regional office of the presidency in São Paulo since 2005.
The bribery scandal erupted on the heels of Brazil’s biggest political corruption trial that sentenced some of Lula’s closest aides to prison terms for buying support in Congress for his minority Workers’ Party government after taking office in 2003.
Rousseff, Lula’s chosen successor, was not affected by the vote-buying scandal and she has built on his popularity by gaining a reputation for not tolerating corruption. But the ruling Workers’ Party was rocked by the scandal which tarnished Lula’s legacy even though he was not implicated.
The new corruption case could further hurt the standing of Lula, who remains Brazil’s most influential politician.
Friday’s arrests included two brothers who were recommended for positions in the federal government by Lula’s former secretary Noronha, Paulo Rodrigues Vieira, director of the National Water Agency, and Rubens Carlos Vieira, director for airport infrastructure at Brazil’s Civil Aviation Agency.
Police accused the brothers of recruiting second-tier government employees who would be open to bribery, while a third brother also under arrest, Marcelo Rodrigues Vieira, contacted businessmen willing to pay for false or speeded-up approvals.
Police have been investigating the bribery ring since 2010 when an official in the government accounting office who was offered 150.000 dollars for a favorable report got cold feet, returned the money he had been paid and blew the whistle.
Early on Friday, police seized computers and data from the Brasilia office of Deputy Attorney General Jose Weber de Holanda Alves, who has been dismissed and is under investigation along with a dozen other people, including a former senator.
The purge comes when a public opinion poll shows that President Rousseff has a greater vote intention for the 2014 presidential election than her predecessor and mentor, Lula da Silva.
The Ibope Institute poll shows Rousseff with a 26% support for her re-election in 2014, while the former president figures with 19% if he decides to run. The poll published in the Sunday edition of O Estado de São Paulo was based on 2002 ‘spontaneous’ interviews in 143 cities and towns between November 8 and 12. The seven point difference is greater than the error margin of the poll.
Ibope points out that besides the figures the poll showed that Dilma Rousseff has ceased to be seen as the 2010 option of Lula da Silva (since he could not run for a third consecutive period) and can try for re-election on her own merit because she is seen as a head of State with her own policies, personality and attitude.