Brazilian former bank executive Henrique Pizzolato, who fled to Italy three years ago after being implicated in one of the biggest corruption scandals in Brazil’s history, may soon face authorities in his home country again. An Italian court approved Pizzolato’s extradition Tuesday, tying up one of the remaining loose ends of the political scandal that became one of the most defining features of former President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva’s administration.
Pizzolato, a former marketing director for the Bank of Brazil, was convicted and sentenced to a 12-year prison sentence in 2012 for money laundering and embezzlement in a scheme known as the “mensalao,” or “monthly allowance,” in which government officials allegedly used public funds to buy support for members of the ruling Workers’ Party. Pizzolato, who has dual Brazilian and Italian citizenship, vanished shortly after his conviction and went to Italy using a passport belonging to his deceased brother, according to Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo.
Italian authorities arrested Pizzolato in February 2014, but a court in Bologna initially denied his extradition, saying Brazil could not guarantee his safety in prison. He was arrested again in February this year when an Italian appeals court overturned the lower court’s decision. Pizzolato has denied the charges against him, saying his trial in Brazil was politically motivated.
The “mensalao” scandal, which came to light in 2005, is known as one of Brazil’s landmark corruption cases and threatened to take down Silva’s administration. The investigation netted 25 convictions of high-level Workers’ Party members and government officials, the highest profile of which was Jose Dirceu, Silva’s former chief of staff. Silva himself was never implicated in the scandal.
That corruption case, however, is quickly being overshadowed by current investigations into a bribery scandal involving state-run energy firm Petrobras, in which government officials allegedly inflated the value of construction contracts and paid kickbacks to politicians, mostly from the Workers’ Party. That investigation is still unfolding and has garnered 117 indictments of construction executives, politicians and government officials alike. The former treasurer of the Workers’ Party became the latest and highest-level official to be convicted under that corruption case Monday, after a Brazilian judge sentenced him to 15 years in prison.
Both corruption cases have badly tarnished public trust in the Workers’ Party and in current President Dilma Rousseff, a protégé of Silva, whose approval ratings have fallen to just 8 percent in part from the Petrobras fallout.