LATIN AMERICA

Influence-peddling inquiry focuses on Brazil’s Lula da Silva, says magazine

Ex-president may have received “economic benefits” for helping firm win foreign contracts

Lula da Silva during a May 1 rally.
Lula da Silva during a May 1 rally.NELSON ALMEIDA / AFP

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who until now has been unscathed by a growing corruption scandal at state-owned oil company Petrobras, has become the target of a prosecutor’s investigation into alleged influence peddling, according to Época magazine.

In its latest edition, the Brazilian news weekly reported that anti-corruption prosecutors have opened an inquiry into the former two-term president to see whether he helped the conglomerate Odebrecht win contracts with foreign governments.

Lula da Silva may have received “direct or indirect economic benefits” from Odebrecht between 2011 and 2014 to help the firm secure business in other countries, especially in Dominican Republic and Cuba, with financing from the Brazilian state development bank (BNDES), Época reported.

Odebrecht is one of the country’s biggest leaders in building highways, ports, air facilities and other infrastructure for foreign governments. The firm is currently in charge of modernizing the Cuban port at Mariel.

According to the news magazine, Odebrecht obtained at least $1.6 billion in financing from BNDES “after Lula da Silva, as former president, met with the leaders of Ghana and Dominican Republic.”

Odebrecht is one of the country’s biggest leaders in building infrastructure for foreign governments

Following a meeting between Ghana President John Dramani Mahama and the former Brazilian leader in 2013, Odebrecht won construction contracts in the West African nation, Época said.

The company also reportedly paid for his visits to Venezuela and other countries where the firm conducts business. In one instance,  Época said, company officials received $848 million in credits during a private meeting in an office at the Brazilian Senate.

Appearing for a May 1 Workers’ Day rally, Lula da Silva reacted to the report by calling the magazine “trash.”

“You can take all the journalists from Veja [another popular news magazine] and Época and they don’t amount to 10 percent of my honesty,” he said.

Veja also reported last week about Lula da Silva’s business dealings with another big firm, OAS.

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“It’s important to understand that the inquiry by prosecutors indicates only a questioning, a request for clarification,” Odebrecht said in a statement, adding that such procedures “have no administrative or legal consequences.”

The allegations against Lula da Silva come at a bad time for his successor, Dilma Rousseff, who is facing increasing pressure about her own role in a widespread kickbacks-for-contracts scandal at Petrobras.

More than 50 current and former officials from the ruling Workers Party (PT) – founded by Lula da Silva – and its allies in Congress are being targeted by an investigation that aims to determine whether they accepted payoffs from businesses in exchange for approving contracts at Petrobras.

Rousseff, whose approval ratings have plummeted as a result of the country’s severe economic crisis, served as Petrobras chairwoman from 2003 to 2010 under Lula da Silva.