Under Brazilian law, lawmakers and cabinet members can only be tried by the Supreme Court. Prosecutor Rodrigo Janot has said he plans to file cases with the court by the end of the month against politicians involved in the graft scheme at Petrobras.
Prosecutors say corrupt executives from Petrobras, as the company is formally known, conspired with contractors to misappropriate billions of dollars from the company. Some of the funds were funneled to politicians and political parties, the prosecutors say.
Who will be on Janot’s list has become a nervous guessing game for Brazil’s political class.
“The politicians are worried. They are preparing their lines of defense,” said Thiago de Aragao, a partner at Arko Advice, a political analysis firm in Brasilia.
A spokesman for Janot said he could file some charges but in most cases he would ask the top court to authorise further investigations to establish proof.
Defendants have in plea bargain testimony named more than 40 politicians who received money, including senators and a former governor, according to transcripts leaked to Brazilian media.
Most of those named are from the ruling Workers’ Party or allies in Rousseff’s governing coalition, but they also include some members of the opposition who allegedly received money funneled from kickbacks on overpriced contracts.
The corruption scandal has already hit Brazil’s business class. The investigation has so far led to 39 indictments for racketeering, bribery and money laundering. Defendants include two former Petrobras senior managers and 23 executives from six of Brazil’s leading construction and engineering companies.
The widening of the corruption probe to politicians will likely add new tensions to relations between Rousseff and her coalition allies in Congress, which could complicate passage of legislation aimed at averting a credit rating downgrade.
Rousseff, who was chairwoman of Petrobras’ board of directors from 2003 to 2010, when much of the alleged corruption took place, has denied knowing about the scheme during those years. A recent poll showed three in four Brazilians believe Rousseff knew.