Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva, who is running for the 2018 presidential election in his country, has underwent a court grilling over corruption charges for a second time in two weeks, in a case that could decide his political future.
The once hugely popular president was on Wednesday questioned for more than two hours in the southern city of Curitiba over the alleged acceptance of bribery from the scandal-hit construction giant, Odebrecht.
Lula da Silva, already a front-runner in the next year’s election despite facing multiple corruption cases, calls himself the victim of a “witch-hunt,” arguing that the financial charges brought against him are meant to prevent his return to power.
Back in July, Brazil’s chief anti-corruption judge, Sergio Moro, sentenced the 71-year-old leftist leader to 9.5 years in prison after convicting him in a sixth trial of receiving a seaside apartment from the OAS construction company in exchange for his help winning lucrative contracts with state oil company Petrobras.
Lula da Silva has strongly rejected any wrongdoing and denounced the trial as politically motivated.
The former president is free pending an appeal. If his guilty verdict is upheld, Lula would likely be barred for running again for presidency next year.
Meanwhile, thousands of Lula da Silva’s supporters clad in red greeted him outside the court in the southern city of Curitiba on Wednesday, expressing support for him.
Addressing the crown, he said, “I’m proud because after more than two years investigating my life, investigating telephone calls, recording me and Marisa (Lula’s deceased wife), recording [former president] Dilma [Rousseff] and me, recording my children, filming, following and invading our house, and up until now, they haven't found a single truth to the accusations that they make against me.”
Lula da Silva, who is charged in four other corruption cases as well, is the highest-profile defendant in a widespread corruption probe known as “Operation Car Wash.” The investigation centers on construction firms that have already admitted to paying billions of dollars in kickbacks to politicians and executives at state-run enterprises in return for lucrative contracts.
More than 90 prominent politicians and businessmen have been convicted, while scores of sitting federal congressmen as well as one-third of sitting President Michel Temer’s cabinet are being probed.
Temer became president in August last year after Rousseff, Lula’s ally and successor, was impeached and dismissed over a series of allegations of financial wrongdoing and breaking budget laws. She has denied the charges.