BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazilian prosecutors will likely investigate former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's alleged involvement in a vote-buying scheme in Congress that led to the conviction of several of his closest aides for corruption, two newspapers reported on Wednesday.
O Estado de S.Paulo and Folha de S.Paulo newspapers said the government's chief prosecutor Roberto Gurgel has recommended that the allegations be heard in court after the businessman at the centre of the corruption case, Marcos Valerio, alleged Lula not only knew about the illegal scheme but received money from it.
Government sources told Reuters that Gurgel had decided not to investigate the allegations himself and has sent the case to a lower federal court where Lula can be probed because he no longer has immunity from prosecution.
Lula led Brazil from 2003-10 and is the political mentor to current President Dilma Rousseff. Although Rousseff has so far avoided any negative political fallout from the years-old scandal, that could change if Lula is found to have been directly involved.
Valerio was sentenced to 40 years in jail for channelling public money to politicians during the early years of Lula's presidency, and his credibility as a witness is in some doubt.
The vote-buying scandal that erupted in 2005 almost brought down Lula's government and led to the biggest political corruption trial in Brazilian history that ended last year.
Three top leaders of Lula's Workers' Party, including his former chief of staff Jose Dirceu, were sentenced in November to more than 10 years in prison for running a political bribery scheme in which congressmen received monthly payments to vote for legislation proposed by Lula's minority government.
The case, heard by Brazil's Supreme Court, gripped Brazil for months, bringing an unprecedented level of accountability to a country long used to widespread corruption.
Lula was not charged in the scandal. He has repeatedly denied any knowledge of the vote-buying scheme and has even suggested it never existed. Though Lula remains Brazil's most popular politician, the convictions have tarnished the memory of his time in office and marred his legacy.
Among the more serious accusations he made, Valerio said Lula authorized loans from state banks to the Workers' Party that provided the funds to bribe politicians.
Gurgel's office in Brasilia would not comment immediately. Lula's foundation in Sao Paulo told O Estado de S.Paulo that the former president was travelling and would not comment on the prosecutor's decision.
Reporting by Ana Flor and Anthony Boadle; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama