Brazil Supreme Court votes to spin off part of corruption probe

miércoles 23 de septiembre de 2015 23:13 GYT

SAO PAULO, Sept 23 (Reuters) - Brazil's Supreme Court voted on Wednesday to move part of the country's largest-ever corruption probe to another judge, challenging the notion that all pieces of a case that initially focused on state-run oil firm Petrobras are legally linked.

Justice Dias Toffoli argued that an investigation into whether President Dilma Rousseff's former chief of staff Gleisi Hoffmann received bribes related to a federal planning ministry contract with a software firm was unrelated to Petrobras and could be heard by a different judge.

The majority of judges at Brazil's highest court agreed, the Supreme Court said in a statement. Hoffmann has not been charged and said she did not benefit from the software company.

In spinning off the Hoffmann case, the Supreme Court ruled that non-elected suspects in the alleged planning ministry fraud should be judged by a court in Sao Paulo state and not by federal judge Sergio Moro in the southern city of Curitiba.

Defense lawyers unsuccessfully tried for over a year to take the case away from Moro but were previously unable to knock down his argument that all facts originating from an investigation of bribery at Petrobras in Parana state are linked.

Now, more defense lawyers may try to argue their clients should be heard by judges in other states as the investigation expands.

Under Brazilian law, lawmakers and some other politicians can only be tried by the Supreme Court. Moro was not overseeing the investigation of the more than two dozen elected officials suspected of taking money stolen from Petrobras.

Moro, who became a folk hero for many Brazilians after approving the arrests of powerful engineering and former Petrobras executives in a country long known for impunity, asked the Supreme Court to investigate Hoffmann in August, citing documents seized from a law firm.

Hoffmann served as Rousseff's chief of staff from 2011 to 2014, before leaving to run for governor of her native state of Parana. She lost the election and continues with her post as a senator for Rousseff's Workers' Party.

She is still personally close to Rousseff, who has repeatedly denied knowing about corruption at the company formally known as Petroleo Brasileiro SA. Rousseff chaired its board from 2003 to 2010 when much of the alleged graft and kickbacks to her political allies took place. (Reporting by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Christopher Cushing)