December 2, 2008 / 9:08 PM / 10 years ago

Prominent Brazil financier gets 10 years in prison

SAO PAULO, Dec 2 (Reuters) - A judge in Brazil sentenced Daniel Dantas, one of the country’s most prominent bankers, to 10 years in prison for attempting to bribe a police officer, a federal court said on Tuesday.

Dantas, the founder of the Opportunity financial group and a former rising star in Brazil’s financial world, was arrested in July along with a former mayor of Sao Paulo on charges of money laundering and tax evasion.

Prosecutors accuse Dantas of having offered a police officer $1 million in exchange for dropping investigations in to his case, which has received blanket coverage in the Brazilian media in recent months.

A Dantas associate was recorded apparently giving the bribe by a hidden police camera in a scene that was shown repeatedly on Brazilian television.

Dantas still faces the charges he was arrested under in July, which relate to a financial scandal that hit President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s first administration. In the “mensalao,” or monthly allowance, scandal, the opposition alleged that undeclared campaign funds were used to buy votes in support of government proposals in Congress.

Judge Fausto Martin de Sanctis of a Sao Paulo federal court also ordered Dantas to pay 13.4 million reais ($5.6 million) in fines and compensations. He did not issue an arrest warrant and Dantas can appeal the ruling. White-collar criminals are rarely imprisoned in Brazil.

“The crime attributed to my client did not happen,” Dantas’ defense lawyer Nelio Machado said in a statement.

“His defense was cut short, the evidence is false and the judge blocked the investigation needed to demonstrate the unfoundedness of the accusation.”

Dantas, who is in his mid-50s, was a fund manager for Citigroup and a key figure in the privatization of the telecoms sector in the late 1990s. His Opportunity group used to control phone company Brasil Telecom Participacoes BTRP4.SABRP.N, then one of the country’s largest telecoms groups, together with Citigroup (C.N) and Telecom Italia (TLIT.MI).

In 2005, he was indicted for suspected involvement in corporate espionage on firms including Telecom Italia.

In the ruling released on Tuesday, the judge also sentenced the former chief executive of Brasil Telecom, Humberto Jose Rocha Braz, to seven years in prison for involvement in seeking the bribe.

($=2.39 reais)

Reporting by Pedro Fonseca, Maria Pia Palermo and Guilherme Vieira; Writing by Stuart Grudgings; Editing by Todd Benson and Eric Beech

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