The Brazilian police recommended corruption charges against former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva yesterday as part of a probe into a huge embezzlement scheme at the state oil company Petrobras.
The decision struck the latest in a series of blows against Lula and his suspended successor Dilma Rousseff as they battle to stop their once-mighty Workers' Party from crumbling.
Police recommended corruption and money laundering charges against Lula and his wife and three other suspects. The couple "benefited from illicit gains from OAS to the value of 2,430,193.61 reals" or about $743,000, linked to the renovation work, the police court filing said.
The allegations against Lula and his wife, Marisa Leticia Lula da Silva, are based on Lula's alleged ownership of a luxury seaside apartment in the beach resort of Guaruja, about 60 kilometres southeast of Sao Paulo.
QAS, the construction company which is said to have paid for the extensive renovations the apartment, was involved in the huge embezzlement scheme at Petrobras. OAS is among 31 builders that colluded to rig contracts at Petrobras.
The recommendation must now be considered by prosecutors before prompting formal charges. Under Brazilian law, police can only recommend that a suspect be charged. A judge would still have to decide whether to accept the charges.
Attorneys Cristiano Zanin Martins and Roberto Teixeira, representing Lula and his wife, said Lula and his wife had visited the apartment only once, when they were thinking of buying it. They added the apartment in Guaruja was registered in the name of OAS.
"This is a politically motivated indictment," Zanin Martins said in a statement. "We are going to fight these charges as Lula is innocent. This has become a persecution, not a prosecution."
Lula, 70, who founded the leftist Workers' Party, served as president for two terms between 2003-2010 before helping Rousseff win election. He presided over an economic boom and was hailed internationally for social welfare policies that helped lift millions of people out of poverty. He also was key in Rio de Janeiro's winning bid to host South America's first Olympics, which finished on August 21.
Lula was planning to go to the capital Brasilia on Monday to support Rousseff when she makes a speech before the senate ahead of a vote.
Rousseff is widely expected to be removed from office by next week. Her political rivals accuse her of fiddling the government accounts but she claims previous governments have used the accounting practices she is being put on trial for. She dismisses efforts to oust her from office as 'coup'.
Lula has already been charged with attempting to obstruct investigations in the Petrobras case, in a probe dubbed "Operation Carwash." "I doubt there is anyone more law-abiding than I am," Lula siad with regard to the deciison in late July.
Prosecutors also want to charge him with playing a wider role in the Petrobras affair. The probe centres on a network of politicians who took bribes to facilitate inflated Petrobras contracts for crooked construction companies and others.
The suspects include several key figures from the conservative PMDB party of interim president Michel Temer, a leader of the impeachment drive against Rousseff. If she is impeached, he will become full president until 2018.
(WION with inputs from agencies)