IMAGE: Ricardo Berzoini
Sergio Almeida  /  AP file
Ricardo Berzoini
updated 9/20/2006 9:07:17 PM ET 2006-09-21T01:07:17

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's campaign manager stepped down Wednesday night over his alleged involvement in a plot to incriminate a leading opposition politician ahead of Brazil's Oct. 1 presidential elections.

Lula's campaign said in a statement that the president of the ruling Workers' Party, Ricardo Berzoini, had resigned as Lula's campaign manager to be replaced by Marco Aurelio Garcia.

Berzoini's resignation came shortly after the Supreme Electoral Tribunal opened an investigation to determine if Lula was involved in a reported plot by his party to purchase documents incriminating Jose Serra of the opposition Social Democratic Party.

The scandal surfaced over the weekend, after federal police arrested an attorney who allegedly was hired by Workers' Party leaders to purchase the documents. Serra, who lost to Lula in 2002 presidential elections, is running for the governor's seat in the leading industrial state of Sao Paulo against Workers' Party candidate Aloizio Mercadante.

According to a federal police investigation made public last week, Workers' Party campaign aide Oswaldo Bargas said he met with reporters of local news magazines to sell a dossier containing damaging information for the campaign of Workers' Party adversary Jose Serra for 1.7 million reals (US$781,000; euro616,000).

Bargas said Berzoini knew of the meeting with the reporters but not of the contents of the dossier, which suggested that Serra participated in a public procurement fraud ring during his prior tenure as Brazil's health minister.

Denies role in scandal
Shortly before meeting with Lula on Wednesday evening, Berzoini repeated denials that he had a role in the scandal, but said he would resign if necessary.

"If there is need for a change in the campaign there is no problem, he said. "This is a position of confidence and I am at the president's full disposal."

Police allege that the attorney in their custody, identified as Gedimar Pereira Passos, was given US$770,000 (euro608,000) by Workers' Party officials to buy documents, photos and DVDs supposedly linking Serra to graft when he was health minister between 1998 and 2002.

On Tuesday, Brazil's top electoral court opened an investigation into Lula's rile in the alleged plot. The tribunal, which oversees Brazilian elections, said that if Lula is found guilty of abuse of authority, he and his running mate, Vice President Jose Alencar, would be barred from the race.

The tribunal's press office said the investigation will not be finished before the Oct. 1 election day, however, so it was unlikely Lula would be kicked out of the race.

However, if the president wins re-election and the tribunal rules against him, federal prosecutors could launch legal proceedings that could result in Lula losing his mandate. The runner-up would then become Brazil's next president, the tribunal's press office said.

Second resignation
Police said Passos named Lula security aide Freud Godoy as an intermediary. Godoy, who resigned on Monday, has denied any wrongdoing.

The electoral tribunal's investigation stems from a formal request filed earlier this week by the Social Democratic Party and the right-of-center Liberal Front Party that accused Lula of undue interference in the campaign.

Lula has a commanding lead in election polls dispite earlier corruption scandals tied to the Workers' Party, including allegations of influence-peddling, bribery and campaign finance violations.

In a poll released Wednesday by Datafolha, 50 percent of those surveyed favored Lula. His nearest contender, former Sao Paulo State Gov. Geraldo Alckmin of the Social Democratic Party, was favored by 29 percent.

The poll surveyed 7,735 people nationwide Sept. 18-19 and had a margin of error of 2 percentage points.

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