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Brazil Supreme Court starts massive corruption trial

By Shasta Darlington, CNN
updated 10:47 AM EDT, Fri August 3, 2012
Brazil's former Chief of Staff Jose Dirceu is the main defendant in a corruption scandal.
Brazil's former Chief of Staff Jose Dirceu is the main defendant in a corruption scandal.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 38 defendants are accused of using public money to pay bribes to lawmakers
  • The first government of President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva was in place at the time
  • Brazilian media is calling it "the trial of the century"

Sao Paulo, Brazil (CNN) -- Seven years after politicians were accused in a vote-buying scheme, Brazil's Supreme Court on Thursday started the trial of 38 people suspected of involvement in the scandal.

Eleven Supreme Court justices started the hearings in the capital city of Brasilia.

The defendants are accused of using public funds to pay lawmakers monthly bribes for their support during the first government of President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva in 2005.

Lula's former chief of staff, Jose Dirceu, is among the defendants, along with other top members of his Worker's Party, bankers and businessmen.

The main accusation in what is known as the Mensalao scandal, which means "big monthly allowance," is that the Worker's Party diverted funds from advertising budgets -- not for personal enrichment, but to ensure lawmakers passed Lula's initiatives through Congress.

Defendants have been charged with money-laundering, corruption and accepting bribes. They deny the allegations.

Brazilian media is calling it "the trial of the century."

The trial is expected to last a month and could tarnish the Workers Party and Lula's legacy ahead of municipal elections.

But current President Dilma Rousseff, also of the Workers Party, has never been connected to the scandal.

In fact, Rousseff enjoys a strong approval rating of 77%. Many Brazilians' view is that she has taken a tough stand on corruption, tossing out six ministers who were suspected of misdeeds.

Brazilians have seen their share of scandals. They impeached President Fernando Collor in 1992 for corruption, but he is now an active senator.

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