Judge nixes Brazilian pol's suit over NYC charges

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By JENNIFER PELTZ, Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — A Brazilian congressman lost a bid Wednesday to get rid of a far-flung conspiracy case that was brought in New York, though based on claims of corruption in Brazil.

Paulo Maluf and his son, Flavio, have never appeared in a New York court to fight 5-year-old charges of scheming to take more than $11 million in kickbacks from Brazilian highway contractors and shuttle the money through New York bank accounts.

Instead, they asked a civil court to order the Manhattan district attorney's office to dismiss the charges, which the Malufs called a case of prosecutors overreaching into another continent. In a ruling filed Wednesday, a civil court judge said the men were pursuing their claims in the wrong court.

The Malufs' "challenges to the indictment may be raised and addressed in a pre-trial motion to dismiss or at a trial" in criminal court, should they decide to show up there, state Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman wrote.

A lawyer for the Malufs, Sharon McCarthy, said she was evaluating the ruling to determine what move they might make next. The DA's office declined to comment.

Paulo Maluf, a former Brazilian presidential candidate, and his son said the Manhattan DA had no place prosecuting a case derived from allegations that arose in Brazil and are also being prosecuted there. The Malufs deny the allegations in both countries.

"The Manhattan DA's actions have stepped all over the sovereignty of Brazil," another Maluf lawyer, Bryan C. Skarlatos, told the judge at an April 2010 hearing.

But prosecutors said they had legal grounds to go after the Malufs because the money passed through New York, and some of the cash bought watches and jewelry here.

"They had no problems using the United States and New York to commit their crimes," Assistant District Attorney Marc Scholl told the judge at the 2010 hearing.

Manhattan prosecutors haven't formally tried to extradite the Malufs, citing a provision in Brazil's constitution that largely bars extradition of its citizens. But prosecutors have asked police around the world to pick up the Malufs if they leave their homeland.

The judge did say there might be questions about whether allegations underlying certain conspiracy charges against the Malufs were sufficiently tied to New York, though she didn't call for them to be dismissed. The men also face other conspiracy counts, as well as charges of possession of stolen property.

Paulo Maluf's political career spans four decades and includes stints as mayor of Sao Paulo and governor of the surrounding state. He was elected to congress in 2006, and later re-elected, under the conservative Progressive Party banner.

He built a reputation for effectiveness, though he has long been dogged by corruption allegations.

Some of the alleged kickback money that coursed through Manhattan helped finance Maluf's unsuccessful 1998 campaign to return to the Sao Paulo state governorship, Manhattan prosecutors say.

The Manhattan case was unveiled in March 2007. Then-District Attorney Robert Morgenthau called it an illustration of "corruption and greed on a colossal scale"; a spokesman for Maluf denounced it as "the fruit of political persecution."

The Manhattan DA's office has a history of pursuing far-reaching financial cases, often based on money flowing through international banking hubs in Manhattan.

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Associated Press Writer Bradley Brooks in Sao Paulo contributed to this report.

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