Brazil leftist accuses presidential rival of illegal social media campaigning

 Brazil leftist accuses presidential rival of illegal social media campaigning

By Lisandra Paraguassu and Eduardo Simões

BRASILIA/SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Leftist Brazilian presidential candidate Fernando Haddad accused right-wing front-runner Jair Bolsonaro on Thursday of soliciting mass messaging over social media via WhatsApp, financed by business leaders, in an alleged violation of campaign finance law.

Haddad denounced the practice after newspaper Folha de S.Paulo reported that well-heeled supporters paid for messaging by third-party agencies, each paying up to 12 million reais ($3.26 million) to spread tens of thousands of attack ads.

Bolsonaro's campaign did not respond to a request for comment. The candidate's son, Carlos Bolsonaro, accused Folha and Haddad's Workers Party, or PT, of "telling half-truths or decontextualized lies" in a post on Twitter.

Haddad said the PT has witnesses saying Bolsonaro asked business leaders at a dinner in Sao Paulo for funds to pay for the bulk messaging, which he described as undeclared campaign contributions.

In a radio interview, Haddad said the Bolsonaro campaign had "created a veritable criminal organization with businessmen who are using undeclared money to pay for false messages on WhatsApp."

PT lawyers asked prosecutors and Brazil federal police to investigate. Illegal under-the-table funding by companies could, if proven, lead to the disqualification of the Bolsonaro ticket, said attorney Guilherme Salles Gonçalves, an electoral law expert.

PT allies said they would file a complaint with electoral courts. Haddad called on international observers and WhatsApp itself to look into the case.

A representative for WhatsApp, a division of Facebook Inc, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Campaign propaganda has flooded social media in Brazil ahead of an Oct. 28 run-off vote in the presidential election, which Bolsonaro is expected to win.

Haddad replaced jailed party founder Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on the PT ticket after the former president was banned from running due to a corruption conviction.

Riding high on an anti-graft and law-and-order platform, Bolsonaro won 46 percent of valid votes in the first-round election on Oct. 7, barely missing an outright victory.

With a growing lead in opinion polls, Bolsonaro has said the presidency is "within reach," although he has been unable to campaign due to a near-fatal stabbing during a rally last month.

His doctors had instructed him not to take part in debates against Haddad but said after a check-up on Thursday that the decision was up to him and his campaign. They said he is recovering well but still needs "nutritional support and physiotherapy."

(Additional reporting by Gabriel Stargardter in Rio de Janeiro, Ricardo Brito and Anthony Boadle in Brasilia; Editing by Brad Haynes and Dan Grebler)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Updated Date: Oct 19, 2018 01:05:56 IST