Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva seems to be very upset with the latest cover story of Veja, Brazil’s most popular weekly news magazine. The publication wrote that Lula’s 2002 presidential campaign received a US$ 3 million contribution from Cuba.For parties to get money from a foreign country is something so serious according to Brazil’s electoral law, that the ruling Workers Party might simply be done away if the charges are found to be true. The Brazilian President in conversations with advisers, during the weekend, referred to the news as "a fantasy."
Lula went as far as to call the information "a frame-up" designed to undermine his administration at a time in which the political crisis seemed close to an end. For the President there is no hard proof to back the truthfulness of the news veracity. He got specially angry at the opposition’s first reaction. Some of his opponents in Congress have already talked about investigating the allegations in three congressional inquiries that are already under way.
This morning, the President intends to gather some of his ministers related to political coordination in order to evaluate the damage done by the magazine’s story and to find ways to face the charges. Lula has also scheduled a private meeting with Finance Minister Antonio Palocci, later in the day.
Veja’s story is an explosive report about the origin of a slush fund used in the presidential campaign that brought Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to power. According to the magazine, US$ 3 million of this under-the-table and illegal money came from Havana.
The publication says that Lula’s electoral committee received that amount between August and September of 2002. The magazine writes that it wasn’t able to find out how the money came from Cuba to Brasília. Once in Brazil, however. the dollars stayed under the care of Sérgio Cervantes, a Cuban diplomat who has worked in Rio and Brasília representing his country.
Always according to the Brazilian publication, the money was taken from Brasília to Campinas, in the interior of São Paulo state, by plane, hidden inside three boxes of liquor: one of Cuban rum and two of Johnnie Walker whiskey. The boxes were carried by Vladimir Poleto, an economist and former aide to Brazil’s Finance Minister Antonio Palocci, who at the time was Ribeirão Preto’s (in the interior of São Paulo) mayor.
The story of the money transportation is full of details. In Campinas, the dollars were received in the Viracopos Airport by Ralf Barquete, another former aide to Palocci. Barquete came to the airport in a black, armored, Omega car driven by í‰der Eustáquio Soares Macedo.
From the airport the car with the money went straight to Lula’s presidential election committee in Vila Mariana, a neighborhood in the southern zone of São Paulo. In charge of the committee at the time was Delúbio Soares, the PT’s treasurer who was stripped from his post recently.
Rogério Buratti, who also worked in Ribeirão Preto’s City Hall told Veja that he had been sought by Ralf Barquete, at the request of Palocci, to advise on the best way to bring US$ 3 million dollars from Cuba. He replied that it could be done with the help of "doleiros" (illegal dollar dealers)."
Buratti told the magazine that after that contact he didn’t hear about the subject anymore, but was told later on that the money had been brought in successfully.
Vladimir Poleto, who is now a business consultant was a reluctant informer. Veja tells that he was always mentioning that he wasn’t comfortable with the revelations because this could mean the ousting of Lula.
Poleto conceded, however, that he himself had transported the money from Brasília to Campinas, flying as a passenger in a plane where he was the only passenger. He made a point. however, that, at the time, he thought he was carrying boxes of whiskey and rum.
Only later he was made aware of the boxes real content: ‘Who told me that was Ralf Barquete. The value was 1.4 million dollars".
After hearing about the story from a Veja reporter, Palocci commented: "I never heard anything about that. From what I hear now, it seems to me something very ingenious."
Brazil’s Law 9096, approved in 1995, forbids any political party from receiving foreign money. The penalty for such a crime might lead to the registration cancellation of the political party that accepts this kind of contribution.
Lula wouldn’t lose his mandate, but he or any other PT candidate would not be able to run for any political post in the next year’s national election. The Brazilian electoral legislation requires that candidates are registered into a party at least one year before the election occurs.