The main defendant in Brazil’s Mensalao (big monthly payments) scandal is Jose Dirceu, who was chief of staff of former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Brazil’s Supreme Court has began a landmark bribery trial in a case involving a cash-for-votes scheme in the legislature that could tarnish the legacy of hugely popular former President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva and the ruling party.
Supreme Court Justice Carlos Ayres Britto opened proceedings on Thursday by naming each defendant and detailing the charges, which range from embezzlement and money laundering to corruption and fraud. Those found guilty face up to 45 years in prison, AFP reported.
Seven years after the news first broke; the Mensalao (big monthly payments) scandal embroils senior members of Lula's Workers Party (PT) and Brazil's ruling administration.
In what the local media have dubbed "the trial of the century," 38 former ministers, lawmakers, businessmen and bankers face prosecution before the Supreme Court over alleged vote-buying in Congress between 2002 and 2005.
The main defendant is Jose Dirceu - a former chief of staff for Silva and one of the PT party's founders, who is accused of orchestrating regular bribes to legislators from allied parties to secure their votes after the Workers' Party came to power in 2003.
Silva himself is not accused of any wrongdoings in the case.
Dirceu is entitled to a hearing before the highest court because of his political rank. The Supreme Court judges decided to package all 38 defendants together into one 50,000-page case involving 600 witnesses because of the interconnected nature of the 1,089 charges, which include corruption, money-laundering, misuse of public funds, embezzlement and conspiracy.
This is while many of the defendants have dismissed accusations leveled against them.
Attorney General Roberto Gurgel has described the case as "the most daring and outrageous corruption scheme and embezzlement of public funds ever seen in Brazil," according to his last official statement before the start of trial.
Brazilian media have reported that the Mensalao scandal saw some 25 million euros (R$101 million) siphoned from public funds to pay off politicians and buy support for the coalition.
Meanwhile, President Dilma Rousseff, who was hand-picked by Lula to succeed him and won the election with his strong support, has kept mum on the trial, which is expected to last over a month.
It remains unclear what repercussions the Mensalao scandal could have for the ruling Workers Party, which is now led by Rousseff.