Brazil police accuse Lula minister of corruption, sources say

FILE PHOTO: Brazil's Communications Minister Juscelino Filho gestures before a ministerial meeting in Brasilia

By Ricardo Brito

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil's federal police have formally accused Communications Minister Juscelino Filho of passive corruption and other crimes, sources said on Wednesday, making him the first member of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's current cabinet to face such allegations.

Police investigated Filho in a probe of alleged corruption at Codevasf, a government-linked development agency for the Sao Francisco and Parnaiba region in northeast Brazil.

Filho in a statement denied any wrongdoing, calling the federal police's probe politically motivated.

In Brazil, police can make accusations based on their investigations before public prosecutors present charges in courts.

According to two people familiar with the matter, who requested anonymity to discuss the investigation, the minister was formally accused of accepting bribes, laundering money and participating in a criminal organization, opening the door to criminal charges.

Originally a lower house lawmaker representing the state of Maranhao, the minister has been serving in Lula's cabinet since the leftist leader took office in January 2023 for his third non-consecutive term.

Filho is a member of the center-right Brazil Union party, which got key roles in Lula's cabinet as he sought to build a broader coalition to secure support in Congress, where his leftist allies are in the minority.

Lula's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The minister had already made the headlines in early 2023 when he allegedly used an air force plane to travel to a horse auction. The president at the time decided to keep him in the job despite pressure to fire him from some allies, including the head of Lula's Workers Party.

Lula's first two terms as president from 2003 to 2010 were marred by graft scandals. The leftist leader himself was jailed in 2018 on corruption charges, but his conviction was later annulled by the Supreme Court.

(Reporting by Ricardo Brito; Editing by Brad Haynes and Josie Kao)