Mum was the word for a former leading executive of Brazilian state-owned energy firm Petrobras at a legislative hearing related to the latest major scandal to rock the South American country.
“I think it should be an open session but because it isn’t I have nothing to declare,” said Paulo Roberto Costa during testimony he provided to congressional investigators on Wednesday afternoon.
The ex-head of Petrobras' refining and supply unit also reportedly uttered the phrase “I reserve the right to remain silent” (or similar wording) dozens of times from questions by parliamentarians related to his allegations against numerous senior politicians who received bribes in exchange for votes favoring Petrobras. Costa, who has been imprisoned since March and accused of money laundering, was allowed by the Supreme Court to provide evasive responses to the questions during the three hours of testimony.
In an interview given earlier this month to Brazilian newsmagazine Veja, Costa accused Energy Minister Edison Lobão, both heads of Congress, and some thirty legislators mostly from the ruling Workers Party (PT) for supposedly participating in the kickback scheme.
Costa’s silence on Thursday did not sit well several legislators during the closed-door session, especially those opposed to President Dilma Rousseff and her attempt to win reelection next month.
"We have not had any progress here, absolutely nothing," said Vanessa Grazziotin while Mendonça Filho decried that “the state is being robbed.” Yet PT Sen. Humberto Costa accused his opposition colleagues of engaging in “radical speeches for political use".
Costa remarks in Veja became one of the most heated topics in the homestretch of the Brazilian presidential race. Rousseff pledged to “take the necessary action” but warned that she “will not act based on speculation.” Her main opponent, environmentalist Marina Silva, observed that “Petrobras is being destroyed through political interference, patronage and corruption” even though Costa named the candidate she replaced last month, Eduardo Campos, as one of the figures who received bribes.
Conservative politician Aecio Neves criticized both Rousseff and Silva, and deemed the latest scandal as “mensalao 2.” (The original “mensalao” uproar emerged from a vote-buying corruption scandal that tainted Rousseff’s predecessor and close ally, former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, while he was in office).
Petrobras produces 2.5 million barrels of oil per day, employs some 87,000 people and is a major source of funding for government social programs. Yet the company's value has fallen in recent years and the chief of Brazil's oil industry association warned that energy policies under Rousseff are causing a decline in private sector investment.
Two polls published this week found that despite the scandal at Petrobras, Rousseff is expected to battle Silva in a likely second round next month. An Ibope poll found that Rousseff has lost support and Silva would narrowly win in a runoff while both women are in a statistical dead heat according to a Vox Populi poll.
A series of Rousseff attack ads may have helped her close ranks with Silva in the polls though Brazil’s recent economic problems have provided Silva with a major advantage.
Costa’s testimony in Brazil wasn’t the only tense-filled legislative hearing in South America on Wednesday. In Colombia, a debate over the influence of right-wing paramilitaries in Colombian politics was filled with a flurry of serious accusations:
Leftist opposition senator Ivan Cepeda on Wednesday claimed that Colombia’s former President Alvaro Uribe worked with the Medellin Cartel’s top finance man, among several other accusations of ties to criminal and politically violent activities over the last three decades…
Uribe claimed he has never had ties to paramilitaries or narco-traffickers, while also going on the offensive and throwing various accusations at a number of officials. He alleged that President Santos had wanted to ally with paramilitaries to remove former President Ernesto Samper from power.Video Source – teleSUR English via YouTube
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