Brazil's Lula defiant after corruption trial
CURITIBA, Brazil – Brazil's leftist former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva emerged defiantly Wednesday, May 10, from almost 5 hours of testimony in a corruption trial that threatens to destroy his storied career.
Arguably the country's most popular and controversial politician, Lula is accused of receiving a seaside apartment as a kickback from the OAS construction company.
If found guilty, he could be barred from running for office and even jailed, ending his chances of coming back to power in the 2018 presidential elections at age 71.
The closed hearing put Lula face-to-face with Judge Sergio Moro, a hero to many Brazilians for his relentless pursuit of senators, millionaires and other powerful figures in a graft probe called "Car Wash."
Lula, whose 2003-2010 rule left him loved by the left and equally loathed on the right, would be by far Moro's biggest scalp.
However, the fiery orator – who grew up in severe poverty before becoming a union leader, co-founder of the Workers' Party and a leftist icon across Latin America – came out swinging at his accusers.
"I thought after... there would at least be a document that the apartment was mine," he told a campaign style rally of several thousand supporters who had bused into the southern city of Curitiba for his day in court.
"I don't want to be judged on interpretations," he said, slamming prosecutors as unable to produce evidence. "I want to be judged on proof."
The Lula faithful, many clad in Workers' Party red, responded deliriously, cheering "Lula, warrior of the Brazilian people," and letting off fireworks.
"I think he is innocent. If they had something concrete against him, there's no doubt he'd have been arrested," said supporter Gerson Castellano, 50. "It's a class struggle that's going on."
A much smaller group of opponents also gathered, raising an inflatable caricature of Lula dressed in prison garb.
Respect for ex-president
Brazil's media talked up the court session as a showdown between two of the most powerful men in Brazil.
Moro, 44, has become equally famous for his role leading the "Car Wash" probe, which revealed massive kickbacks and embezzlement from state oil company Petrobras at the heart of the Brazilian elite, much of it during Lula's presidency.
Lula faces a total of 5 corruption trials.
In Wednesday's case, Lula is alleged to have taken a bribe from OAS – which did lucrative business with Petrobras – in the form of a luxury seaside apartment near Sao Paulo.
In video of the hearing that was broadcast afterward on Brazilian national television, Lula, seated at a table with lawyers and prosecutors, said he had nothing to do with it.
"I never asked for and I never received the apartment," he said.
Prosecutors have painted Lula as a kingpin over the wider Petrobras corruption scheme.
However, in the video of the hearing Moro went out of his way to reassure Lula that he would "be treated with maximum respect, as any defendant, but also equally considering the office that he had held previously."
He also stressed that Lula did not face imminent arrest.
Hashtags trending on Twitter reflected the bitter divide over the ex-president's legal problems, including #LulaEuConfio (I trust in Lula) and #MoroOrgulhoBrasileiro (Moro, pride of Brazil).
President Michel Temer, a hugely unpopular figure who took over when Lula's successor Dilma Rousseff was impeached and removed from the presidency last year, appealed for calm.
"We need to calm down the country. The country can't be in this permanent state of conflict, with Brazilian against Brazilian," he said. – Rappler.com