Members of Congress traded votes for money during the first two years of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's 2003-2011 tenure as president, one of the judges in Brazil's corruption "trial of the century" said Monday.

Supreme Court Judge Joaquim Barbosa gave a detailed account of the cash that Lula's Workers Party, or PT, paid to lawmakers of four other parties to secure passage of the administration's legislative agenda.

Backed by documents submitted by prosecutors, Barbosa said "there's no doubt that votes were bought" and that the money was paid "before, during and after" the bills were voted on in the lower house.

Among the cases in question, the judge cited a controversial tax reform passed in September 2003 and a pension overhaul voted on that same year.

"There's plenty of documentation and there's no doubt that a scheme existed for buying votes," Barbosa said.

Former presidential chief of staff Jose Dirceu and 37 other people, including two former Cabinet ministers and erstwhile congresspersons, are facing charges that range from money laundering and tax evasion to fraud and criminal conspiracy.

Also in the dock are leaders of the PMDB, PP, PTB and PL parties.

The scheme came to light in the summer of 2005 after PL lawmaker Roberto Jefferson accused the PT of having bribed legislators of other parties to build the congressional majority that the government failed to obtain at the polls in 2002.

"Despite the defense attorneys' attempts to prove that the bribes were fictitious, the accusations are very far from being mere political revenge," Barbosa said, adding that "it wouldn't be the first time a crime has been reported because of a falling-out among its perpetrators."

Barbosa noted that former PT treasurer Delubio Soares said his party gave the leaders of the other four parties a total of 55 million reais ($27.5 million at current exchange rates).

He cited Soares' insistence in his statement that these amounts were meant to cover campaign expenses and not to "buy" support, which would reduce the matter to campaign-finance violations no longer subject to prosecution.

The judge particularly noted, however, the support the PT obtained from the PP, a party that "was always diametrically opposed" ideologically to Lula's party. EFE