Police question Brazil’s ex-president in corruption probe

  • By MAURICIO SAVARESE and JENNY BARCHFIELD
  • Sunday, March 6, 2016 1:02am
  • NewsNation-World

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazilian police hauled former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva from his home and questioned him for about four hours Friday in a sprawling corruption case involving state-run oil company Petrobras that has already ensnared some of the country’s most-powerful lawmakers and businessmen.

The once-immensely popular president, who governed from 2003 to 2010 and remains a towering figure in Brazil, angrily denounced the morning raid as part of a campaign to sully his image, that of his party and that of his hand-picked successor, President Dilma Rousseff.

Rousseff also expressed her “total inconformity” with the operation, which she called unnecessary, although she appeared to distance herself from her one-time mentor by barely mentioning Silva in an address Friday afternoon.

“I felt like a prisoner this morning,” said Silva, who has expressed interest in possibly running for president again. “I have gone through many things, and I am not one to hold a grudge, but I don’t think our country can continue this way.”

Police arrived at about 6 a.m. at Silva’s residence in greater Sao Paulo’s Sao Bernardo do Campo and spirited the 70-year-old to a federal police station at the city’s Congonhas airport. Silva was released after around four hours of questioning.

Police said they also searched the headquarters of his non-profit foundation Instituto Lula, as well as properties connected to his sons and other family members. One of his sons was brought in for questioning.

Clashes broke out between Silva’s supporters and critics outside several sites where police were conducting searches. After his release, cheering supporters gathered outside Silva’s apartment to welcome him home.

Judge Sergio Moro, who is heading the Petrobras investigation, said he allowed the police to haul in Silva for security reasons, citing fears that demonstrations could complicate efforts to question him. He also stipulated that police were not to handcuff or film the former leader.

Officials said they were looking into 30 million Brazilian reais ($8.12 million) in payments for speeches and donations to the Instituto Lula by construction firms that were crucial players in the Petrobras corruption scheme. They were also looking into whether renovations and other work at a country house and beachfront apartment used by Silva and his family constituted favors in exchange for political benefit.

“No one is exempt from investigation in this country,” said public prosecutor Carlos Fernando dos Santos Lima. “Anyone in Brazil is subject to be investigated when there are indications of a crime.”

Prosecutors in the so-called Car Wash corruption case say more than $2 billion was paid in bribes to obtain Petrobras contracts, with some money making its way to several political parties, including the governing Workers’ Party. Some of Brazil’s wealthiest people, including the heads of top construction companies, have been caught up in the probe, as have dozens of politicians from both the governing coalition and the opposition.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court authorized that charges be brought against Eduardo Cunha, the speaker of the lower house of Congress and a leader of the effort to impeach Rousseff.

In her address Friday, Rousseff spoke out in support of Silva, though she made only one brief reference to the day’s events. Instead she focused on separate allegations that emerged in the press a day earlier, leading some observers to suggest she was trying to distance herself from Silva.

The reaction of the governing party was scathing. Workers’ Party president Rui Falcao issued a video statement calling the detention “a political spectacle” that revealed the “true character” of the probe.

“It’s not about combatting corruption but simply to hit the Workers’ Party, President Lula and the government of President Dilma,” Falcao said.

Speaking to supporters at his Workers’ Party headquarters in Sao Paulo after the questioning, Silva dismissed the police’s actions as a “media spectacle” aimed at hobbling him.

Legal analysts said that bringing Silva in for questioning suggests that any possible case against him is still in its early phases.

“Police are still collecting evidence. There is no smoking gun because if there were, the searches wouldn’t be needed,” said Jair Jaloreto, a Sao Paulo-based expert on money laundering.

A lathe operator at a metal factory who entered politics as a labor union leader, Silva was widely seen as representing the common man, and his ascension to the country’s highest office was hailed in a nation long dominated by the elite. During his two terms in office Silva presided over galloping economic growth that pulled tens of millions of poor Brazilians into the ranks of the middle class.

Despite a votes-for-bribes scandal that took down his chief-of-staff and others, Silva left office with record high popularity levels and his hand-picked successor, Rousseff, handily won the presidency.

Silva and Rousseff have seen their popularity nosedive as Brazil has slipped into its worst recession in decades and the Car Wash investigation spread. Rousseff’s approval ratings have dipped into single digits, though they’ve rebounded slightly of late. She faces impeachment proceedings.

___

Associated Press writer Stan Lehman contributed from Sao Paulo.

More in News

The Aurora Borealis glows over the Mendenhall Glacier in 2014. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Aurora forecast

Forecasts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute for the week of Nov. 27

Mountain reflections are seen from the Mendenhall Wetlands. (Courtesy Photo / Denise Carroll)
Wild Shots: Photos of Mother Nature in Alaska

Superb reader-submitted photos of wildlife, scenery and/or plant life.

Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire 
At Wednesday evening’s special Assembly meeting, the Assembly appropriated nearly $4 million toward funding a 5.5% wage increase for all CBJ employees along with a 5% increase to the employer health contribution. According to City Manager Rorie Watt, it doesn’t necessarily fix a nearly two decade-long issue of employee retention concerns for the city.
City funds wage increase amid worker shortage

City Manager says raise doesn’t fix nearly two decade-long issue of employee retainment

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Saturday, Dec. 3

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Molly Yazwinski holds a 3,000-year-old moose skull with antlers still attached, found in a river on Alaska’s North Slope. Her aunt, Pam Groves, steadies an inflatable canoe. (Courtesy Photo /Dan Mann)

 

2. A 14,000-year-old fragment of a moose antler, top left, rests on a sand bar of a northern river next to the bones of ice-age horses, caribou and muskoxen, as well as the horns of a steppe bison. Photo by Pam Groves.

 

3. Moose such as this one, photographed this year near Whitehorse in the Yukon, may have been present in Alaska as long as people have. Photo by Ned Rozell.
Alaska Science Forum: Ancient moose antlers hint of early arrival

When a great deal of Earth’s water was locked up within mountains… Continue reading

FILE - Freight train cars sit in a Norfolk Southern rail yard on Sept. 14, 2022, in Atlanta. The Biden administration is saying the U.S. economy would face a severe economic shock if senators don't pass legislation this week to avert a rail worker strike. The administration is delivering that message personally to Democratic senators in a closed-door session Thursday, Dec. 1.  (AP Photo / Danny Karnik)
Congress votes to avert rail strike amid dire warnings

President vows to quickly sign the bill.

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire
Juneau state Sen. Jesse Kiehl, left, gives a legislative proclamation to former longtime Juneau Assembly member Loren Jones, following Kiehl’s speech at the Juneau Chamber of Commerce’s weekly luncheon Thursday at the Juneau Moose Family Center.
Cloudy economy, but sunnier political outlook lie ahead for lawmakers, Kiehl says

Juneau’s state senator tells Chamber of Commerce bipartisan majority a key to meaningful action

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Friday, Dec. 2

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Alaska State Troopers logo.
Hunter credits community members for Thanksgiving rescue

KENAI — On Thanksgiving, Alaska Wildlife Troopers released a dispatch about a… Continue reading

Most Read