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Brazil corruption scandal dogs Lula, not Congress

Written by: Staff

BRASILIA, Brazil, Apr 6 (Reuters) Eight members of the ethics committee of Brazil's lower house of Congress resigned in protest today, following the acquittal of several House members who were accused of accepting bribes and illicit campaign contributions.

The resignations follow the acquittal of former House leader Joao Paulo Cunha of the ruling Workers' Party, or PT, in a vote by the House plenary on Wednesday.

He is the eighth of 18 congressmen to have been acquitted of corruption charges. Only three were found guilty and have been expelled from Congress.

''I feel powerless, discouraged, and disenchanted,'' said Cezar Schirmer of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, one of the congressmen who resigned from the 15-member committee.

Others accused political parties of having cooked up a deal to save lawmakers from expulsion.

The chairman of the ethics committee asked those who resigned to reconsider and remain on board for remaining hearings on the scandal.

The scandal broke last June and a congressional committee investigating it said yesterday in its final report that the PT had used illicit funds to finance election campaigns and bribe legislators.

While the majority of the accused lawmakers are being absolved in Congress, the scandal is encroaching on Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and could undermine his bid for a second term in October's general election.

Last week, Lula confidant and Finance Minister Antonio Palocci was forced to resign over related corruption allegations, which he denies.

Later in the week, seven ministers, including his key political liaison with Congress, Jacques Wagner, resigned to run in October's election. Lula lost his Cabinet chief, Jose Dirceu, and PT president Jose Genoino last year over the scandal.

Opposition politicians are seeking to involve Justice Minister Marcio Thomaz Bastos in the affair, saying the Federal Police, which reports to him, may have taken part in an attempted cover-up of the investigations. Bastos said on Thursday he would go to Congress to answer the allegations.

With the loss of key aides, a political analyst questioned Lula's ability to govern.

''Lula is starting to look like a lone knight,'' said Carlos Lopes, a Brasilia-based political consultant. ''If he were re-elected, who would he govern with?'' Reuters PG VP0250

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