Brazil's Supreme Court has sentenced the former top aide of ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to nearly 11 years in prison on corruption charges. The trial is seen as a turning point toward cleaner governance.
Jose Dirceu, Lula's chief of staff, was found guilty of orchestrating a cash-for-votes bribery scheme to win support for the president's proposals in congress. News of the scheme broke in 2005 during the early years of Lula's first term.
The top court on Monday sentenced him to 10 years and 10 months in prison.
"The responsibility of the accused is extremely high," said Justice Joaquim Barbosa, speaking for the court.
"He used his positions of leadership and prominence, both in the Workers' Party and the federal government," to engage in crimes of corruption, Barbosa said.
The high-profile case, heard by Brazil's Supreme Court, has gripped Brazil for more than a month, bringing an unprecedented level of accountability to a country long-accustomed to widespread corruption.
The trial has been all the more surprising because the Workers' Party is still in power and most of the justices were appointed by Lula or his chosen successor, President Dilma Rousseff.
When the scandal broke in 2005 the court sentenced Jose Genoino, the president of the Worker's Party at that time, to six years and 11 months in prison, and its then-Treasurer Delubio Soares got eight years and 11 months.
Last month, the court convicted 25 people, including Dirceu, for diverting at least $35 million in public money to bribe legislators to support Lula's minority government during his first two years in office.
The scandal crippled Lula's first term, from 2003 through 2006, but amid an economic boom he was easily re-elected for a second four-year term.
Lula, who was not charged in the scandal, has denied any knowledge of the scheme and has even suggested it never existed.
hc/jm (Reuters, AP, dpa)