Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was detained and questioned today amid accusations that he received “illicit benefits” from the mega corruption scandal at Brazilian state oil enterprise, Petrobras.
Local media reported that the police operation began just after 6am, when federal agents arrived at the home of Lula in São Bernardo do Campo. Following three hours of questioning at Congonhas Airport, in the state of São Paolo, Lula was released by federal police without being charged.
The former president’s home was also searched as part of Operation Aletheia, a Greek term meaning “search for truth”, which is the latest phase of the mega ‘Lava Jato’ (Car Wash) investigation. The residence of one of his children was also raided, and was his institute’s headquarters and the offices of the construction company Odebrecht.
The Petrobras affair is considered Brazil’s largest ever corruption scandal. Dozens of senior politicians and businessman are under investigation, accused of colluding with Petrobras executives to receive illicit payments and kickbacks of over US$2bn. The money was allegedly used to finance political campaigns, according to prosecutors.
Public Prosecutor Carlos Fernando Dos Santos said that there was “significant” evidence that Lula had received “illicit benefits” in the corruption scheme.
However, speaking defiantly after being released, Lula said that the operation was “a show against me made for the media”, adding that his detention was unnecessary as he had never refused to make a statement. “I don’t owe anyone anything and I don’t fear justice,” said Lula.
Lula’s institute also released a statement condemning the “violence” against him, deeming it “arbitrary, illegal, and unjustifiable”.
Lula left the Brazilian presidency with a high approval rating in 2011 and has vehemently denied all allegations of corruption. He is reportedly preparing to run for the presidency in 2018, when incumbent Dilma Rousseff finishes her second term, though Lula himself has not confirmed this.
Today’s proceedings come as Brazil’s political and economic climate remains tense, with Rousseff facing impeachment proceedings and the country in a deep recession.