Brazil's finance minister rejects involvement in alleged kickback scheme

Finance Minister Antonio Palocci on Thursday denied involvement in with an alleged kickback scheme while he was mayor of a major city, Ribeirao. "I was never involved in such a scheme," Palocci told a congressional commission investigating a corruption scandal that has engulfed the administration of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and his Workers Party for the past nine months.

Palocci added, "As mayor, I would have known if anyone in my administration had been involved."

Former city official Rogerio Buratti said Palocci received 50,000 Brazilian reals (US$22,200) per month from a garbage collecting company holding city contracts. Buratti said Palocci turned the money over to the Workers' Party, which used the funds in the 2002 electoral campaign.

Palocci said that he would not be running for any public office in the October 2006 elections for president, state governors and members of Congress.

"I believe I'm making a contribution in my present post and I expect to remain in it in 2006," he said.

He also denied press reports alleging campaign donations by Cuban President Fidel Castro to the Workers' Party 2002 campaign. In 2005, the weekly newsmagazine Veja alleged that Cuba donated up to US$3 million to the party in 2002.

"There were no contributions from Cuba to the 2002 campaign," Palocci said. "I had no relationships with Cuban officials", reports the AP.

D.M.