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Brazilian prosecutors charge Lula da Silva in money-laundering probe

Ex-president denies owning a luxury apartment mentioned in Petrobras graft investigation

Former Brazil president Lula da Silva this Wednesday in Brasilia.
Former Brazil president Lula da Silva this Wednesday in Brasilia.Fernando Bizerra Jr. / EFE

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São Paulo prosecutors on Wednesday filed charges against former Brazil president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in connection with money laundering and misrepresentation of assets, according to the Brazilian media.

The move is a new blow to Lula da Silva, who governed Brazil between 2003 and 2010. Last week he was held for questioning over a parallel investigation into graft at state oil company Petrobras.

São Paulo prosecutors are accusing Lula da Silva and his wife, Marisa Letícia Lula da Silva, of concealing their ownership of a luxury apartment on the coast. The property is registered in the name of construction company OAS, itself a target in the Petrobras probe.

Suspicions of corruption had been dogging Lula da Silva for some time, but this is the first clear-cut accusation leveled against him

The former president has always denied ownership of this upscale apartment, which is mentioned in the Petrobras investigation as evidence that Lula da Silva benefited unlawfully from construction companies.

Lula da Silva has refuted the charges, and his foundation, the Lula Institute, released a statement on Tuesday saying that the former leader does not own the apartment and “committed no illegalities.”

Suspicions of corruption had been dogging Lula da Silva for some time, but this is the first clear-cut accusation leveled against him. On Friday, the police raided his home and took him in for questioning for three hours. State prosecutors have accused him of being “one of the main beneficiaries” of a corruption scheme that allegedly diverted 10 billion reales (around €2.4 billion) between 2004 and 2012.

In order to protect a man who remains a towering figure in the Workers’ Party (PT) and a potential candidate in the 2018 presidential elections, a few ministers have offered Lula da Silva the chance to fill a government position.

Were he to accept a post, he would automatically receive legal protection from the courts. At that point, only the Supreme Federal Court would have the power to try him, and he would be safe from the lower-court judge Sérgio Moro, who is leading the Petrobras investigation and forced Lula to provide testimony last Friday.

“I am the victim of a media circus,” said the former president as he was taken to Congonhas airport in São Paulo to give evidence. “If they wanted to hear me out, all they had to do was call me and I would have come, since I owe nothing to nobody, and fear nothing.”

These latest developments have ramped up tensions in Brazil, where a political crisis has been brewing for months. President Dilma Rousseff’s popularity ratings are at an all-time low of 11%, and the economic crisis is contributing to the gloomy scenario. The latest economic figures show that GDP contracted 3.8% in 2015 compared with the previous year, representing the worst results on record since 1996.

Opposition parties and social movements are expressing their discontent by organizing large protest marches in dozens of cities for this coming Sunday. The government has already expressed fears of violent street clashes, and asked Brazilians for “tolerance” and “unity.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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