Former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who was key in getting the Olympics to Rio, will be put on trial for allegedly trying to obstruct a corruption probe at Petrobras oil company, officials said yesterday.
"The charge is obstruction of justice" linked to the Petrobras embezzlement probe, named Operation Car Wash, a spokesman for the justice ministry told AFP.
Lula was formally charged along with six others, including former senator Delcidio do Amaral, a once-important ally in Lula's leftist Workers' Party who is accused of Petrobras-related corruption and has turned state's witness.
Lula, as he is universally known in Brazil, was president from 2003-2010 and left office with massive popularity thanks to social programs that lifted tens of millions of Brazilians from poverty.
He also was key in the 2009 winning bid by Rio de Janeiro to host South America's first Olympics, which start next Friday.
However, his legacy has been badly tainted by the emergence of the Petrobras scandal in which dozens of politicians and executives are accused of having embezzled from the huge state oil company in a web of inflated contracts, kickbacks and bribes that lasted much of his presidency.
Lula is alleged to have been at the centre of the scheme. However, the charges on which he will stand trial are limited to allegedly attempting to obstruct the enquiry.
Prosecutors have been told by Delcidio in his plea bargain that Lula had asked him to assist a Petrobras director charged in the corruption scheme.
Lula accuses Delcidio of fabricating his testimony to attempt to save himself from a serious sentence in his own case.
Lula's spokesman issued a statement saying the charges were flimsy because they "are based uniquely on (evidence from) a plea bargain."
"Lula has never opposed the investigations," the statement said.
The development comes a week before the opening of the Olympics and will reignite a simmering political crisis that has upended the Workers' Party dominance of Brazil over the last 13 years.
Lula's handpicked successor Dilma Rousseff faces an impeachment trial set to culminate days after the Olympics end.
If the Senate votes to impeach by a two thirds majority, Rousseff will be removed from office and her bitter political enemy Michel Temer, who is currently serving as interim president, will take over.
Rousseff is accused of breaking government budgeting rules, but has denounced the impeachment process as a coup in disguise aimed at putting Temer's center-right administration in power and destroying the Workers' Party.
Both Lula and Rousseff have declared they will boycott the Olympics opening ceremony, where Temer is to preside and declare the Games open.
In an interview yesterday with foreign news organizations, including AFP, Temer said he expected Rousseff to be removed by the Senate in time for Brazil to know whom to send to the G20 summit in China at the start of September.
"We are hoping that the resolution of the impeachment comes between August 25 and 26, because if it takes to September 4, 5 or 6, Brazil will not be able to go to the G20," Temer said.
Temer said he was already "acting as if I will stay on" and that "the world needs to know who is the president."