RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - Faced with growing corruption scandals, the ruling Workers' Party of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva went on the offensive yesterday to combat allegations that it paid monthly bribes to lawmakers in exchange for support of the government's agenda in Congress.
In a news conference, the party's treasurer promised to open his financial records to investigators, while opposition legislators urged a full congressional inquiry. Lula and his advisers have blasted the accusations as false, but the president vowed to root out corruption.
The allegations of congressional vote-buying, leveled this week by a one-time ally, are the most serious to hit Lula's government, which already was working feverishly to contain the fallout from another imbroglio over corruption in the postal service. The scandals have been embarrassing for a party that prides itself on clean government, and have shaken investor confidence as well as Lula's standing in the polls.
His legislative agenda, including long-awaited reforms of Brazil's tax and labor codes, appears in doubt as lawmakers hunker down for congressional probes of a kind that historically leave the country's political system paralyzed for months.
The latest accusations surfaced in a newspaper interview Monday with Roberto Jefferson, a federal deputy. Jefferson alleged that the treasurer for the Workers' Party, or PT, issued a $12,000 monthly handout each to various legislators in return for their favorable votes on government policies.
Jefferson, president of the Brazilian Labor Party, claimed to have informed Lula of the setup this year. He said the president wept that such a thing could be going on and ordered it halted. Jefferson said the payments subsequently stopped.
But Jefferson has named none of the lawmakers allegedly involved. Lula's aides accuse him of distorting his conversation with the president and insist that there is no proof of such a scheme. Others smelled an attempt by Jefferson to deflect attention from his own troubles as the target of the already-brewing postal-service scandal.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.