Brazil’s former president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, is set to stand trial on charges of attempting to influence a corruption investigation at the state-run Petrobras oil company, judicial officials say.
“The charge is obstruction of justice” linked to the Petrobras embezzlement probe, named Operation Car Wash, AFP quoted an unidentified spokesman for the Brazilian Justice Ministry as saying on Friday.
The 70-year-old ex-president was officially charged along with six others, including former senator Delcidio do Amaral, a once-important ally in Lula’s Workers’ Party who is accused of Petrobras-linked fraud and has emerged as a prosecution witness.
Speaking at a financial seminar in Sao Paulo, however, Lula responded to the development, saying “I doubt there is anyone more law-abiding than I am.”
Lula further accused Delcidio of fabricating his testimony in a bid to prevent a serious sentence in his own case.
Brazilian prosecutors say the multibillion-dollar Petrobras graft scheme originated during his 2003-2011 presidency term and continued during that of his successor, suspended President Dilma Rousseff. Lula has repeatedly denied wrongdoing.
A spokesman for the former president also described state charges as “flimsy,” noting in a statement that they “are based uniquely on (evidence from) a plea bargain.”
“Lula has never opposed the investigations,” said the statement.
Brazil’s former president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, delivers a speech during a meeting of the Socialist Youth, in Sao Paulo, on July 29, 2016. ©AFP
The ex-leader also said, “The only thing I want is respect -- not to be tried by the media and by leaks against innocent people.”
Lula, who was key to bringing the summer Olympics to Rio, left office with huge popularity thanks to social programs during his administration that lifted tens of millions of Brazilians from poverty.
His legacy, however, has been seriously tainted by the emergence of the Petrobras scandal, in which dozens of politicians and executives stand accused of having embezzled from the huge state oil company in a web of inflated contracts, kickbacks and bribes during his presidency.
Although Lula is accused by his opponents to have been at the center of the scheme, the charges on which he will stand trial are limited to alleged attempts to obstruct the enquiry.
The development comes just a week prior to the opening of the Olympics and will reignite a simmering political crisis that has reversed the Workers’ Party dominance across Brazil over the past 13 years.