SAO PAULO, (Reuters) – Brazilian police arrested former Finance Minister Guido Mantega yesterday as a sweeping corruption investigation struck further at the heart of the Workers Party (PT) that ran the country for 13 years.
Police investigators told a news conference they took Mantega, long a confidant of recently impeached former President Dilma Rousseff and an early member of the PT, into custody at the Albert Einstein Hospital in Sao Paulo. He was there accompanying his wife as she prepared for surgery. Mantega, 67, was ordered released from custody a few hours later. The investigators said Mantega in 2012 requested a payment of 5 million reais, about $2.5 million at the time, from Brazilian business tycoon Eike Batista, a billionaire who has since lost his fortune, to pay PT campaign debts.
At the time, Batista’s shipbuilding unit OSX Brasil SA was discussing an oil platform project with state-led oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA, known as Petrobras, and loans from state-owned development bank BNDES. Brazil’s longest-serving finance minister of the past 70 years, Mantega in 2012 was also the chairman of Petrobras, the company at the center of a sprawling political-kickback scheme.
Mantega’s lawyer, José Roberto Batochio, told reporters late yesterday that his client never requested money from Batista and said his arrest was “absolutely exaggerated.”
“What I can say and what the minister has affirmed to me with total assurance is that he never discussed a donation of any value to pay campaign debts from Mr. Eike Batista,” Batochio said.
A few hours after his arrest, federal Judge Sergio Moro ordered Mantega released from custody.
Moro ruled that Mantega’s cooperation with authorities, the fact they had already searched his home, and the fact that Mantega was supporting his wife as she fights cancer all suggested the former minister was unlikely to interfere with the investigation.
His arrest came two days after Moro decided to put former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on trial for allegedly accepting more than $1 million in bribes from an engineering company in the Petrobras scandal.
Mantega served as finance minister for almost nine years under Rousseff and Lula, a close friend whom he helped become elected president in 2002.