MEDELLIN, Colombia (ICIS)--A Brazilian judge on Tuesday ruled that former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva must stand trial for his alleged role in a multi-billion dollar kickback and bribery scandal involving state oil giant Petrobras.
Judge Sergio Moro said prosecutors presented sufficient evidence last week accusing Lula of passive corruption and money laundering, crimes that carry a penalty in Brazil of 32 years in prison, according to official state news service Agencia Brasil.
Lula’s wife Maria Leticia and six others will also face trial, Moro ruled.
Judge Moro’s decision is the latest development in the so-called Lava Jato (car wash) investigation into allegations of chronic corruption at Petrobras that has already implicated dozens of high-ranking executives and politicians.
Through a series of plea deals, Lava Jato has exposed a complex scheme whereby a number of allegedly corrupt Petrobras officials colluded with contractors to fix prices and pay bribes. Revenue from the scheme was then allegedly squirreled away in secret bank accounts or funnelled to political parties for election campaigners.
During a press conference last week to announce the charges, federal prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol alleged that Lula was the “mastermind” behind the scheme, which aimed at keeping the former leader’s Workers’ Party (PT) in power.
Lula personally received some Brazilian reais (R) 3.74m ($1.15m) in “unlawful benefits” linked to the purchase and renovation of a luxury beachfront apartment in Sao Paulo state, the Federal Public Ministry (MPF) alleged. The property was built by OAS, one of the contractors entangled in the Lava Jato investigation.
Lula, who served as president from 2003-2011, has denied all the charges.
Supporters of the former leader claim the accusations are politically motivated.
“There is a situation of persecution and, what’s more, a real intention of knocking the former president out of the political and election scene for 2018,” defence lawyer Cristiano Martins told Agencia Brasil.
Meanwhile, a judge in Rio de Janeiro has sentenced the former CEO of construction giant Andrade Gutierrez to eighteen years in prison for his role in the Lava Jato case.
Otavio Marques de Azevedo was found guilty of corruption, money laundering and participation in a criminal organisation linked to the construction of a nuclear power plant, known as Angra 3.
($1 = R3.26)