The interrogation of Lula

The Economist, 03/04/2016

For nearly two years Brazilian sleuths investigating a bribery scandal centred on Petrobras, the state-controlled oil giant, have followed a trail of evidence that has led ever deeper into ranks of the country’s business and political elites. On the morning of March 4th it led them to the door of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, president from 2003 to 2010. Lula, as he is universally known, was taken in for questioning (and later released). His house near São Paulo was raided, along with the homes and offices of several others targeted in the latest phase of the probe.

To many, it was only a question of when, not whether, police would come knocking. The corruption scheme, in which big construction firms allegedly funnelled billions of reais to Petrobras executives and their political masters in exchange for padded contracts, appears to have been started while Lula was in office. Surely, cynics have long muttered, it was too vast for the then-president not to have known about it, or indeed profited from it.

Prosecutors now say they have evidence that Lula, members of his family and the Lula Institute, an NGO that he heads, received “undue benefits” worth 30m reais ($8m) in 2011-14 from builders embroiled in the Petrobras scandal. Lula was “one of the principal beneficiaries of the crimes” committed at the oil company, prosecutors claim. He vehemently denies any wrongdoing, and reportedly greeted the federal police officers at his door with calm, if not his usual folksy charm.

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