There are 243 fixed seats for spectators at the Brazilian Supreme Court (STF). For the trial of Penal Case 470, known in Brazil known as the mensalão (big monthly allowance), which begins at 2 pm today, 152 seats have been reserved for defendants and their lawyers. Another 75 seats will be for journalists.
Court spokespersons say that additional seats, besides fixed seats, will be available but that as ministries have a right to reserve places the exact number is not known. The public gets seats on a first-come-first-served basis.
As is usual for STF sessions, there are dress rules: men have to wear a coat and tie, women pants suits or tailleurs. Tennis shoes, sandals and blue jeans are not permitted. It is also prohibited to take pictures except for official photographers.
Parking near the court may be difficult, but there are the PGR and TCU parking lots nearby and a van that runs regularly from them to the Supreme Court.
STF security guards, along with Federal District Military Police, will be responsible for safeguarding the trial. If necessary, the Força Nacional and Federal Police can be called in.
The trial can be followed live on television (TV Justiça, channel 53 UHF in Brasília or channel 117 Sky; Rádio Justiça 104.7 FM in Brasília and on the Internet).
In the mensalão 38 defendants face from one to seven criminal charges stemming from varying degrees of participation in a huge vote-buying scheme in which members of Congress were paid monthly amounts to vote with the government during the first Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva administration.
The case was made public in 2005 and arrived at the Supreme Court in the same year. At that time, eleven of the defendants were federal deputies and they had special criminal venue (“foro privilegiado”) meaning they could only be tried for crimes before the Supreme Court).
For that reason, the whole case, all 38 defendants, is being tried at the STF (defense lawyers have challenged that in the past and are expected to do so once again today). At this moment, only three of them are federal deputies.
Among the defendants is José Dirceu, who was then presidential Chief of Staff (ministro-chefe da Casa Civil) on leave from his seat in the Chamber of Deputies where he represented the state of São Paulo.
In June 2005, he resigned as head of the Casa Civil. In December 2005, he was expelled (“cassado”) from the Chamber of Deputies.
The so-called “major trial” involves ministers, lawmakers, the whole of the ruling party (Workers Party, PT) leadership and almost ousted Lula.
Among the accused are three former ministers and all the members from the ruling Workers party board of the time, to which also belongs current President Dilma Rousseff.
The list is completed with outstanding figures from four other political parties and several business people, the most notorious of which publicist Eduardo Duda Mendonça who was head of the electoral campaign that took Lula to become president for the first time in 2002.
According to the Prosecution the charged are involved in a corruption web used to finance the presidential campaign of Lula da Silva and other PT candidates to different posts as well as bribing tens of lawmakers in support of government legislation since the Lula’s administration did not have the necessary majorities in congress.
The most outstanding of the accused is José Dirceu for decades one of the most important figures of PT together with Lula and who was named Secretary of the Presidency, a post from which he managed all the political contacts of the government.
Another accused is the former PT chairman and currently advisor to the Ministry of Defense, José Genoíno, and the former treasurer of the party Delúbio Soares who denies the bribes but admits 2002 campaign funds which went undeclared to electoral authorities.
Two former ministers, Information Luiz Gushiken and Transport Anderson Adauto, currently mayor of Uberaba and leader of the former Liberal Party which was forced to change its name to Party of the Republic because of the impact of the scandals, are also in the box of the accused. A former whip of the Lower House João Paulo Cunha also figures among the indicted.
The whole issue exploded when in June 2005, another accused and currently president of the Brazilian Labor Party, PTB, Roberto Jefferson and at the time member of the Lower House revealed that the PT had paid the equivalent of 1.6 million dollars for the support in Congress of the Lula administration.
Despite the prominence of the ruling party leaders involved, a majority among the 38 accused, the current PT president Rui Falcão is convinced that “nor the party or Lula” will be sentenced.
Lula completed two consecutive terms, totaling eight years and stepped down in January 2011 with the support from 85% of public opinion.
“The PT does not agree but will defend its affiliates,” said Falcão who argues that if there is any evidence it refers to donations received for electoral campaigns and not declared, a minor administrative offense which has “prescribed”.
But for the Prosecutor General of the Republic Roberto Gurgel what happened “was the more daring and scandalous corruption schemes and deviation of government funds ever discovered in Brazil.”
In those words the Prosecutor addressed the Supreme Tribunal on the case which has 44.265 pages full of “documental evidence”. His opinion was supported by that of the former attorney general Antonio Fernandes who started the case and in an interview with O Globo said “there were founded elements” to convict the accused.
The charges are to be read in the first session today and involve from active and passive corruption to money laundering to partnership in crime and dealing with hard currency, among other crimes. The Supreme Tribunal believes the case will take at least a month and only in mid September there will be sentencing.