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 Fernando Haddad follow a report published by the newspaper Folha de S.Paulo saying 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.
In a series of tweets, Bolsonaro, who is the front-runner in opinion polls, said any support of businessmen was voluntary. Gustavo Bebbiano, the chairman of Bolsonaro’s Social Liberal Party, denied receiving illegal donations.
“Every donation made until this day, no matter if it is our party or our candidate’s campaign, comes from resources donated to our platform, accordingly with legislation,” Bebbiano said
Haddad, who was hand-picked by jailed former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, said he has leads for the federal police to follow, but did not reveal names. He later asked Brazil’s top court to start an investigation, and he said he might take the case to the Organization of American States.
“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,” Haddad 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 Brazil’s campaign finance laws since companies are barred from giving money to candidates, electoral lawyer Erick Pereira said.
“But there is still need for robust evidence, which is not here at this moment,” Pereira added.
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 emailed 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 his tweet, Bolsonaro said 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.”
On Thursday, a Datafolha poll said Bolsonaro keeps a comfortable advantage over Haddad, with 59 percent support against his adversary’s 41 percent. The polling firm said it interviewed 9,137 voters Wednesday and Thursday and the poll had a margin of error of two percentage points.
Associated Press writer Stan Lehman in Sao Paulo contributed to this report.