UPDATE 3-Petrobras scheme started with Lula's ex-chief of staff -prosecutor

lunes 21 de septiembre de 2015 19:16 GYT

(Adds Workers' Party statement in 9th paragraph)

SAO PAULO, Sept 21 (Reuters) - A massive corruption and political kickback scheme at Brazil's state-run oil company Petrobras started with former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's chief of staff, a lead prosecutor said on Monday.

Prosecutor Carlos Fernando dos Santos Lima said the bribery scheme at Petroleo Brasileiro SA, as Petrobras is formally known, had the same origins as Brazil's previous political scandal, the "mensalao" or monthly payment scheme, in the offices of Jose Dirceu, Lula's top aide from 2003 to 2005.

Dirceu was charged with corruption, money laundering and racketeering on Sept. 4 in the Petrobras case after being arrested in August. He was already under house arrest for the earlier corruption case.

"We don't have concrete proof, but we are working with the hypothesis that everything started with the chief of staff," Lima said.

Lima pointed to Dirceu as the mastermind of the graft cases during a news conference to announce the arrest of Jose Sobrinho, one of three owners of construction firm Engevix, for allegedly paying bribes between 2011 and 2013 to executives at Eletronuclear, a unit of state-run electric utility Eletrobras .

Lima's comments on the origins of Brazil's largest-ever corruption case may bring the scandal closer to Lula, a beloved leader credited with lifting millions of Brazilians out of poverty. Brazilian police are preparing to question Lula about the Petrobras scandal, after getting approval to do so from the Supreme Court.

Neither Lula nor his successor, President Dilma Rousseff, have been charged, and both deny any role in the kickback scheme. Rousseff was Lula's chief of staff after Dirceu.

Also on Monday, the treasurer of the governing Worker's Party, Joao Vaccari, was sentenced to just over 15 years in jail, while the former head of Petrobras' services division, Renato Duque, faces 20 years and eight months.   Continuación...