Brazil: Former leader Lula 'played key role' in Petrobras corruption

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Lula during a seminar in Sao Paulo, 25 April 16Image source, AFP
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Workers' Party supporters say the accusations are aimed at derailing Lula's bid to run for president in 2018

Brazil's Attorney General Rodrigo Janot has asked the Supreme Court to authorise an investigation against former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva for alleged corruption.

Mr Janot accused Lula of playing a key role in the huge corruption scandal at the state oil company, Petrobras.

Local media report that Mr Janot also requested that current President Dilma Rousseff be investigated.

The reports say she is suspected of obstructing the corruption inquiry.

However, there has been no official confirmation yet of the request for investigation of President Rousseff.

Allegations against Lula

Mr Janot accused Lula of playing a key role in the huge corruption scandal at the state oil company, Petrobras.

He said the corruption could not have taken place without the participation of the former leader.

Lula, who was in office between 2003 and 2011, denies the allegations.

Lula returned to frontline politics in March, when President Dilma Rousseff nominated him as her chief of staff.

But within an hour of being sworn in, a judge suspended his nomination saying it had been aimed at protecting him from possible prosecution on corruption charges.

Under Brazilian law, members of the cabinet can only be investigated by the country's top court, the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court has yet to rule on whether he can take up his post.

Conspiracy allegations

The former president was previously accused of getting a penthouse flat in favourable conditions from a building company involved in the Petrobras scandal.

But the accusations filed now by the Brazilian attorney general are much more serious.

Mr Janot said Lula and other senior politicians conspired to create a scheme that siphoned off vast amounts of money from Petrobras.

He requested authorisation to investigate Lula and 29 other senior politicians, officials and businessmen.

Image source, AP
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The opposition says President Rousseff must have know about the corruption, but she has not been implicated in the scandal

The speaker of the lower house of Congress, Eduardo Cunha - a former government ally who is now in the opposition - and ministers from President Dilma Rousseff's cabinet are on Mr Janot's list.

Car Wash Operation

Prosecutors say the corruption scheme is estimated to have cost the company more than $2bn (£1.45bn).

Part of the money was used to finance the electoral campaign of top Brazilian politicians, they allege.

The accusations are part of Operation Car Wash, which was launched two years ago by a group of prosecutors focusing initially on money laundering.

Their investigations led them to allegations of a complex corruption scheme at Petrobras.

Several politicians and Petrobras executives have been arrested and sentenced.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
The speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, Eduardo Cunha, is in Mr Janot's list

Some of them have agreed to testify against other suspects in exchange for more lenient sentences, taking the investigation to a new level.

Until now, 39 people were being officially investigated in Operation Car Wash.

Mr Janot has asked for the inclusion of another 30 names on that list.

He has acted on new information from suspects who agreed to a plea bargain, Brazilian media reported.

On Monday, Mr Janot requested authorization to investigate prominent opposition leader and former presidential candidate Senator Aecio Neves.

He has been accused of receiving bribes from officials at the state electric company, Furnas.

Mr Neves has rejected the allegations.

Ms Rousseff, who defeated Mr Neves by a narrow margin in 2014, was head of the Petrobras board of directors when much of the corruption took place, but she is not facing any official accusations against her.