Sunday 18 March 2018

Ex-Brazil president faces court in corruption case

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is greeted by supporters as he arrives at the Federal Justice building in Curitiba, Brazil (Denis Ferreira Netto/AP)
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is greeted by supporters as he arrives at the Federal Justice building in Curitiba, Brazil (Denis Ferreira Netto/AP)

Former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has given evidence in a corruption case against him.

Silva came face-to-face for the first time with the federal judge overseeing a mammoth probe that has rocked Latin America's largest nation.

The hearing was closed to the press and not broadcast live, two of the many measures taken by Judge Sergio Moro and authorities in the south-eastern city of Curitiba amid concerns of sparking violence.

Globo News captured images of Silva arriving at court in a black car with a police escort.

Thousands of supporters - both of Silva and Judge Moro - were separated by a few miles and hundreds of police in riot gear controlled several streets around the federal courthouse.

"Brazil's most popular politician in the last 30 years is going before a judge like any regular citizen," said Mauricio Santoro, a political scientist at the State University of Rio de Janeiro.

"That is very rare in Brazilian politics."

Silva, president between 2003 and 2010, was giving evidence about allegations that he received a beachfront apartment as a kickback from construction company OAS.

Prosecutors also allege that OAS did repairs at the apartment and paid to store Silva's belongings.

The former president denies the charges, along with those related to several other cases of corruption against him.

His testimony came after several attempts by his defence team to postpone the hearing.

The last appeal, to the Supreme Federal Tribunal, Brazil's highest court, was denied about an hour before his evidence began.

Silva's defence team argued it needed more time to analyse the case. Opponents counter that it was an excuse to prolong the case.

The defence has also said it wants to call more than 80 witnesses.

Silva has reason to drag the process out as h e has signalled his interest in running for president in 2018, and leads in preference polls.

He would be ineligible, however, if he is convicted and that conviction is upheld on appeal.

Judge Moro, who has become a national hero to many Brazilians while overseeing the so-called Car Wash investigation, is known for reaching judgments relatively quickly and then denying the release of convicts while they appeal.

Since it launched in March 2014, the investigation centred at state oil company Petrobras has led to the convictions of dozens of top politicians and businessmen.

Many more are being investigated in the kickback scheme, which prosecutors say involved more than three billion dollars (£2.3 billion) in bribes over more than a decade.

The probe has also spread beyond Brazil to several Latin American countries.

In a sign of the pressure surrounding Silva's case, last week Judge Moro posted a video in which he asked supporters of the investigation not to come out.

During a public appearance this week, he also downplayed the hearing, saying it was procedural and that no decision would be reached on Wednesday.

For his part, Silva has started hinting at getting revenge for what he insists is a witch-hunt aimed at keeping him from returning to the presidency.

"If they don't arrest me soon, maybe one day I'll arrest them for lying," Silva told members of his Workers' Party during a gathering last week, according to daily Folha de S Paulo.


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