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Brazil court finds 3 top Lula associates guilty of corruption

BRASILIA -- Brazil's Supreme Court convicted three top aides of former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's of graft related to a vote-buying scheme in Congress.

Lula's ex-chief of staff Jose Dirceu was found guilty by six of the 10 judges in connection with the scheme that ran from 2002 to 2005 during the popular president's first term, a court spokesman said.

The head of Lula's ruling Workers' Party (PT) at the time, former guerrilla Jose Genoino, and its treasurer, Delubio Soares, were also convicted on charges of corruption.

The three officials are among 37 former ministers, lawmakers, businessmen and bankers on trial before the Supreme Court over the scandal known as “Mensalao” (big monthly payments).

Since the trial opened in early August, 30 of the defendants have already been found guilty.

The justices said Dirceu, Genoino and Soares distributed money to lawmakers to “illegally secure the support of other political parties to form a ruling government coalition.”

Buying political support in Congress is a common practice in Brazil and the defense insisted said that the illegal account was used only to cover campaign costs.

The 66-year-old Dirceu, who operated as Lula's de facto prime minister, is viewed as the main culprit in the high-profile trial that threatens to tarnish the ex-president's legacy.

The scandal nearly cost Lula his re-election in 2006. But the 66-year-old founder and leader of the leftist PT was cleared.

Lula was easily re-elected in 2006 and handed over power to his protegee and fellow PT member Dilma Rousseff at the end of his second four-year term.

Dirceu's rise began in 1995, when the lawyer, economist and ex-communist assumed the PT presidency.

He had been arrested during a student congress in 1968 before being released a year later along with a group of political prisoners exchanged for the U.S. ambassador to Brazil at the time, Charles Elbrick, who had been kidnapped by leftists.

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