Brazil front-runner accused of illegal campaign practices


SAO PAULO — A Brazilian presidential candidate on Thursday accused his far-right adversary of illegal campaign practices for allegedly allowing friendly businessmen to secretly pay to spread slanderous messages.

The accusations by left-leaning contender Fernando Haddad follow a report published by the daily Folha de S.Paulo newspaper saying that businessmen linked to Congressman Jair Bolsonaro allegedly bankrolled the spread of fake news on the WhatsApp messaging service to benefit his candidacy. The article said a blast message campaign was planned for the week before the Oct. 28 runoff.

Haddad, who was hand-picked by jailed former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, said he has leads for Brazil’s federal police to follow, but did not reveal names. He also threatened to take the case to the Organization of American States, and his Workers’ Party filed a complaint with the nation’s electoral court.

“There has been a criminal organization of businessmen which used illegal campaign financing to promote this candidacy and tamper with the election in the first round (on Oct. 7). And they want to do it again in the runoff,” the candidate said. “We estimate that hundreds of thousands of messages, all fake, were sent to voters to suggest they voted for my rival.”

Paying for the blast-messaging, if true, could be a violation of campaign finance laws since companies can’t give money to candidates.

The Folha article mentioned businessman Luciano Hang, who owns the Havan department store, as one of the contributors. It also mentioned a handful of marketing companies that allegedly received money to do the blast messaging.

In an e-mailed statement, the Havan chain said the newspaper “published fake news with a clear ideological slant,” adding it would sue over the article.

At Yacows, an internet marketing service mentioned in the article, a person answered the phone and said there would be no comment because the company did not engage in spreading messages.

The other companies mentioned in the article didn’t answer their phones Thursday afternoon.

In a series of Tweets, Bolsonaro said any support of businessmen was voluntary and Haddad’s campaign was trying to change the subject.

“The Workers’ Party is not being affected by fake news, it is affected by the truth,” Bolsonaro wrote. “They stole the population’s money, were arrested, confronted the judiciary, disrespected families and made the country sink into violence and chaos.”

Brazil’s electoral court has already ordered Bolsonaro’s campaign to remove anti-Haddad content it declared to be false news.

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