Joao Santana, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's campaign chief, is escorted by federal police officers as he leaves the Institute of Forensic Science in Curitiba, Brazil, February 23, 2016. REUTERS/Rodolfo Buhrer(reuters_tickers)
By Thais Skodowski
CURITIBA, Brazil (Reuters) - Brazilian prosecutors charged political strategist Joao Santana, the architect of President Dilma Rousseff's 2010 and 2014 election victories, and 16 others with corruption on Thursday as part of a massive graft investigation.
Santana, who was arrested in February, is accused of receiving bribes from engineering conglomerate Odebrecht in a scheme to divert funds from state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA, or Petrobras, prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol told a news conference.
Santana also received bribes off contracts involving Petrobras, shipbuilder Sete Brasil and Keppel Fels, the local unit of Singapore oil rig builder Keppel Corporation Ltd, Dallagnol said.
The investigation of Santana, known as "the maker of presidents" in Latin America, has increased calls for Rousseff's ouster even though a current attempt to impeachment her is not related to the graft probe.
The senate is expected to vote to put Rousseff, Brazil's first woman president, on trial for manipulating public accounts next month, which would suspend her from office for up to six months.
Santana, 63, also advised former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. A former journalist, Santana is known for producing dramatic, big-budget campaign videos appealing to poor voters.
Santana is one of few prominent political players facing prosecution in Curitiba, where a team of police and prosecutors have aggressively cracked Brazil's largest-ever corruption case.
Some 50 sitting politicians, including the leader of the lower house of Congress, are under investigation in Brasilia as they have immunity from all but Brazil's highest court.
Prosecutors also charged Keppel's former lobbyist in Brazil Zwi Skornicki with corruption, but Dallagnol said they did not have enough evidence to prosecute any Keppel employees.
Representatives for Santana and Keppel Fels did not immediately respond to request for comment. Keppel said in October it might face investigation and no longer does business with Skornicki.
Prosecutors levied yet another charge on Marcelo Odebrecht, the former chief executive of Latin America's largest builder who was already sentenced to 19 years in jail. They emphasized the family-controlled company's institutionalized payment of bribes and sophisticated money laundering.
Odebrecht, which has construction projects all over the world, is seeking a leniency agreement to minimize penalties.
(Writing by Caroline Stauffer, editing by G Crosse and Alistair Bell)