João Vaccari Neto

The former treasurer of Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff’s ruling Workers’ party, João Vaccari Neto, has been sentenced to 15 years and four months in jail for corruption and money laundering.

In a blow to the left-leaning Ms Rousseff, who is facing calls for impeachment, Mr Vaccari was accused of channelling money from alleged corruption at state-owned oil company Petrobras to the Workers party, or PT, in the form of corporate donations.

“The money laundering involved a considerable amount of $4.26m,” Sérgio Moro, the judge leading the court proceedings in the long-running Petrobras investigation, said in his ruling which was available on the court website. “Worse than the money laundering is the impact it had on the democratic political process, contaminating it with criminal resources, that I think is especially reprehensible.”

Mr Vaccari is the most senior political figure to be convicted in the damaging scandal, in which former politicians mostly from the ruling coalition are accused of colluding with one-time Petrobras managers and contractors to extract what the company estimated was R$6bn in bribes and kickbacks.

The troubles at Petrobras have put the brakes on investment in Brazil’s oil sector, deepening a recession in Latin America’s largest economy even as it reels from the end of the commodities supercycle.

The headlines involving the staggering sums allegedly pilfered from the company have contributed to a dramatic fall in approval ratings for Ms Rousseff. After winning a second four-year term in October, she is now Brazil’s most unpopular president in recent democratic history, according to the polls.

Opposition PSDB party leader Aécio Neves, who was defeated in presidential elections in October by Ms Rousseff, said Mr Vaccari’s conviction showed that the Petrobras scandal was “an institutionalised scheme of corruption that the PT established in the country to maintain itself in power”.

PT party president Rui Falcão could not be reached for comment on Monday. However, he was quoted as saying in a statement in newspaper Valor Econômico that the party had not received illegal donations and would respond officially to Mr Vaccari’s conviction.

President Dilma Rousseff AFP/Getty Images
President Dilma Rousseff

Mr Vaccari was unavailable for comment but he has denied wrongdoing. He can appeal against the conviction.

Alongside Mr Vaccari, former Petrobras director Renato Duque was sentenced to 20 years and eight months in prison for inflating contracts at Petrobras and paying part of the money to the PT in the form of donations.

“Corruption with the payment of bribes of tens of millions of reals and causing through them the equivalent loss to the public coffers deserves special reprobation,” Judge Moro said in his ruling.

Mr Duque was not available for comment but has also denied wrongdoing.

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