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Brazil’s Lula faces third set of corruption charges

Court cases could spell the end for former president’s hope of political comeback

Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva at a recent event.
Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva at a recent event. AFP

Brazil’s former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva faces a third set of corruption charges after a judge ruled on Wednesday he should stand trial in a case connected to a construction project in Angola involving his nephew.

Seven executives from Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht, linked to the Petrobras graft case that da Silva is accused of masterminding, along with two associates from another Brazilian firm, Exergia, owned by Lula’s nephew, also face charges of corruption and money laundering.

Police say a 10-month investigation into a case that dates back to Lula’s presidency in 2007 shows that construction giant Odebrecht paid $8.5 million to Exergia at the time of the alleged crimes.

In return, Lula is alleged to have used his influence to help Odebrecht secure a loan from Brazil’s development bank, the BNDES, to finance its Angola project. He is charged with influence-peddling and bribe-taking.

Lula served from 2003-2010 and left office with sky-high ratings and international approval

The others indicted alongside Lula are his nephew, Taiguara Rodrigues, Marcelo Odebrecht, the former head of Odebrecht, and other Odebrecht executives.

Rodrigues began working with his company in Angola – a Portuguese-speaking country that has close ties to Brazil – from 2007. He went on to win a large contract with Odebrecht in 2012.

Prosecutors have separately named Lula, 70, as the mastermind of a huge corruption scheme in which the state oil company Petrobras was systematically plundered by a network of executives, politicians and big contractors such as Odebrecht. Marcelo Odebrecht is currently serving a 19-year prison sentence for Petrobras-related crimes.

Lula already faces two court cases, one of which concerns alleged bribes taken from OAS, another construction company that allegedly benefited from sweetheart deals with Petrobras, as well as an obstruction of justice case.

The Lula Institute, which represents the ex-president, said in a statement that lawyers would “analyze the document from the federal police, which was leaked by the media and revealed in a sensational way before the defense had access.”

It added that Lula was “the victim of a media massacre... to try to destroy the image of the most popular president in the country’s history,” the institute added.

The former president has repeatedly stated his innocence, saying he is being targeted to prevent him from trying to return to power in the 2018 presidential election.

Indicted alongside Lula is his nephew, Taiguara Rodrigues

Lula served from 2003-2010 and left office with sky-high ratings and international approval for his work lifting tens of millions of Brazilians from poverty while presiding over an economic boom.

He remains one of the most popular potential candidates for 2018, opinion polls show.

However, the Workers’ Party, which he founded, was trounced in recent municipal elections and Lula’s legacy has been severely tainted by corruption scandals and the steep decline of the economy.

His chosen successor, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached and removed from the presidency in August after being found guilty of breaking budget laws. Her former vice president and political enemy, the center-right veteran Michel Temer, took over the presidency. He also faces charges in the Petrobras scandal.

If Lula is convicted of a crime, he could be barred from political office for a period stretching well beyond the 2018 election.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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