Rousseff campaign chief Santana surrenders to Brazilian police

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - The architect of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s 2010 and 2014 campaigns, João Santana, landed in Brazil from the Dominican Republic on Tuesday and was taken in a police jet to the city of Curitiba, the epicenter of a massive corruption probe, his spokesman said.

Brazilian presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff (R) of the Workers Party (PT) talks with Joao Santana, head of the electoral accompaniment, before she takes part in a television debate in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in this September 1, 2014 file photo. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker/Files

The arrest of Santana is a threat to Rousseff, who is facing questions over whether her 2014 campaign was financed with bribe money skimmed off of state-run oil company Petróleo Brasileiro SA, or Petrobras.

Police said on Monday they had a warrant for Santana’s arrest after evidence showed engineering conglomerate Grupo Odebrecht had paid him funds siphoned from Petrobras in offshore accounts.

They said Santana also appeared to have received bribes in 2013 and 2014 from Zwi Skornicki, a money mover whom prosecutors said represented Keppel Fels, the Brazil unit of Singapore oil rig builder Keppel Corporation Ltd.

Santana said in a statement he was quitting the re-election campaign of Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina in order to defend himself from “baseless accusations.”


Known as “the maker of presidents,” Santana, 63, led Rousseff’s 2010 and 2014 campaigns. He also advised former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in his 2012 re-election bid, producing dramatic, high-budget campaign videos appealing to poor voters.

Santana’s arrest may have also brought the federal police closer to Lula, who is being investigated for money laundering at the state level.

Police notes in court documents made public on Monday suggested Odebrecht had financed the construction of the former president’s institute. The Lula Institute said in a statement the allegations were wrong as it was founded in 2011, after the alleged financing from Odebrecht in 2010.

Odebrecht’s 7.125 percent global bond due in June 2042 slumped 2.5 cents on the dollar to 44 cents, near an all-time low.

Federal Judge Sergio Moro also blocked the bank accounts of Santana, who allegedly received a total of $7.5 million in bribes, and of his wife and business partner, Monica Moura.

Brazil’s electoral court is investigating Rousseff’s 2014 re-election campaign, including the suspicion of illegal funding. Congress is also trying to impeach her for manipulating government accounts in 2014, while she campaigned.

Political risk consultancy Eurasia Group said Santana’s investigation increased the odds of the electoral court calling new elections, though it said that was still unlikely.

Writing by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Chris Reese and Sandra Maler