May 18, 2016 / 4:30 PM / 3 years ago

Brazilian judge sentences Lula's ex-chief of staff to 23 years

Jose Dirceu (front R), former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's chief of staff, is escorted by a federal police officer as he leaves the Federal Police headquarters to give his testimony in a session of the Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry in Curitiba, Brazil, August 31, 2015. REUTERS/Rodolfo Buhrer

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - A one-time chief of staff for former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was sentenced to 23 years in prison on Wednesday for corruption, money-laundering and conspiracy in a vast bribery scandal at the state-run oil company.

Jose Dirceu, a top power broker in the leftist Workers Party that governed Brazil from 2003 until last week, previously had been sentenced separately by the Supreme Court to over 10 years in prison for running a congressional vote-buying operation.

“Not even a conviction by the country’s highest court could inhibit criminal relapse,” federal judge Sergio Moro wrote in his sentencing decision, noting that Dirceu had been taking part in the bribery scheme even after he was convicted for vote-buying.

Moro is overseeing the probe of state-run Petroleo Brasileiro SA (PETR4.SA), commonly known as Petrobras.

The corruption investigation, Brazil’s biggest ever, has led to the imprisonment of business executives and veteran politicians, contributed to its worst recession in decades and stirred public outrage that fanned an impeachment process against President Dilma Rousseff.

Brazil’s Senate last week suspended Rousseff, Lula’s hand-picked successor, pending the outcome of a trial in the chamber for violating budget rules. The move cleared the way for a more business-friendly government to take power on an interim basis.

Rousseff has not been accused of wrongdoing as part of the Petrobras case. Lula, who founded the Workers Party along with Dirceu and other left-wing activists in the 1980s, is under investigation because of accusations he received favors paid for by companies indicted in the probe.

Both Lula and Rousseff deny they have done anything wrong.

Reporting by Brad Haynes; Editing by Paul Simao

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