Brazil’s former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, known as "Lula", has been charged in a money laundering investigation and his case has been transferred to the "Operation Car Wash" corruption probe that threatens to bring down the government.
The transferral of the case from Sao Paolo state prosecutors to federal judge Sergio Moro yesterday followed historic protests in Brazil on Sunday (13 March) in which as many as 3 million people in hundreds of cities across the country took to the streets calling for the impeachment of current president, Dilma Rousseff.
Despite the unprecedented displays of public anger at Brazil’s political establishment, in which protesters waved blow-up dolls of Lula dressed in prison uniform, the former president is expected to accept a position in Rousseff’s cabinet, which would give him immunity from investigation ordered by federal judge Moro.
If Lula takes a post in government only Brazil’s Supreme Court could prosecute him.
Lula was questioned by police on 4 March and charged on 9 March, with investigators alleging that Lula’s family owned an undeclared beachfront apartment in the city of Guaruja that was built by construction group OAS, one of the firms ensnared in a vast corruption probe tied to state-run oil company Petrobras.
Between one and three million took to the streets of Sao Paulo, Rio, Brasilia and some 400 other cities on Sunday to vent frustration over the corruption scandal, the country’s worst recession in 25 years, and the government’s apparent inability to pass laws in Congress
At the time the arrest was not officially linked to Car Wash but yesterday a judge in Sao Paulo transferred the charges to Moro’s federal court in Curitiba, citing an "undeniable connection" to the Petrobras probe, Reuters reported.
Lula’s lawyer has called the charges a smear attempt, and the former president has denied even owning the Guaruja apartment.
Before protests erupted on Sunday the governing Workers’ Party, of which both Lula and Rousseff are members (Lula is a founding member), had been pressuring Rousseff to offer Lula a cabinet post, which would give the former president immunity from judge Moro.
Yesterday Brazilian media reported that Lula would travel to the capital Brasilia today to discuss options with Rousseff.
Such a manoeuvre could inflame public anger even further after people – numbered by various estimates at between one and three million – took to the streets of Sao Paulo, Rio, Brasilia and some 400 other cities on Sunday to vent frustration over the corruption scandal, the country’s worst recession in 25 years, and the government’s apparent inability to pass laws in Congress.
Operation Car Wash, launched by Moro in 2013, has led to the arrests of dozens of company bosses and continues to snowball.
Brazilian media reported earlier that a senator from the Workers’ Party, Delcidio Amaral, who was arrested in November, has allegedly tied Lula to the Petrobras scandal in a 400-page plea bargain made with prosecutors. According to reports the senator also implicated Dilma Rousseff in the scandal. She has repeatedly denied wrongdoing.
Plea bargains are certain to open new lines of inquiry. According to Reuters, Brazilian news magazine Veja reports details of an alleged plea bargain testimony from the former head of engineering conglomerate Andrade Gutierrez that named several sitting government ministers.
Veja reported that the firm’s former chief executive Otavio Azevedo confessed that a bribery scheme already documented at Petrobras was standard operating practice for spending throughout the government.
Azevedo, who is now under house arrest, said the graft scheme included payoffs for soccer stadiums built for the 2014 World Cup, Veja reported.
Photograph: Protestors mock former president Lula da Silva and demand the impeachment of current president Dilma Rousseff in Sao Paulo on 13 March 2016 (Victor Moriyama/Getty Images)