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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 August 2007, 01:00 GMT 02:00 UK
Lula ally faces corruption trial
Jose Dirceu defends himself in Brazil's Congress (March 2006)
Jose Dirceu was seen as the right-hand man to President Lula
A former top aide to Brazil's president is to stand trial for his alleged role in one of the country's biggest corruption scandals in recent history.

Jose Dirceu was accused of involvement in an illegal fundraising scheme through which the government maintained support in Congress.

He is among 37 people who are to face charges after the Supreme Court ruling.

The scandal broke in 2005 but a lengthy investigation has delayed a decision on legal action until now.

The BBC's Gary Duffy in Sao Paulo says that much of the last two years of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's first term of office was overshadowed by corruption allegations.

Our correspondent says the decision that his closest adviser from that period has a case to answer is undoubtedly a blow.

Mr Dirceu was the president's first chief-of-staff but was forced to resign over allegations that opposition politicians were paid in order to support the government's agenda.

Mr Dirceu's lawyer described the claims as "a piece of fiction" but the Supreme Court ruled that he has a case to answer.

The court had earlier dismissed an embezzlement case against him.

In the public eye

The former minister is just one of a wide range of figures from several parties caught up in the scandal, known in Brazil as mensalao or "big monthly payment".

On Friday the court ruled that two former ministers and a former president of the lower house of Congress should also face corruption charges.

Prosecutors said a criminal organisation was behind the scandal and that public and private funds were diverted in order to obtain political favours.

Among those indicted were four directors of a small private bank, accused of making fraudulent loans to President Lula's Workers' Party.

Our correspondent says it now seems likely that lengthy proceedings will have to take place, keeping a scandal in the public eye that the president and his supporters hoped they had long left behind them.

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