Friday was a bad morning for the former president of Brazil. Luis Inácio Lula da Silva was hauled away like a criminal at dawn and released after hours of questioning at the Congonhas airport. Meanwhile, federal police raided his home, then moved on to the headquarters of his foundation, Instituto Lula, and the houses of people close to the former union leader. Even two of his sons were arrested.
The raid and interrogation, ordered by the federal judge Sérgio Moro at the request of the public prosecutor, is part of “Operation Carwash,” a massive investigation into a web of bribes, billionaires and rigged government contracts. At the center is the state oil company Petrobras, but it involves about 20 other companies, including Odebrecht, the largest manufacturer in Latin America, and 50 politicians from different sides. The company’s chief executive, Marcelo Odebrecht, is in jail. And on Friday, police raided several offices that bear his name.
Prosecutors believe Lula, as he’s known, pocketed dirty money and invested it in real estate through shell companies, as well as financing his campaign and his Workers’ Party (PT) with ill-gotten money. He has received “many favors,” prosecutors say, from companies indicted under the Operation Carwash and negotiated votes for PT. “There were many favors that are difficult to quantify,” according to the magistrate. “But the estimated value is around 30 million reales [$8 million], including conferences and donations that major manufacturers made available.” Lula denies these accusations and also denies that his foundation was involved.
Investigators say Lula’s position was worsened by statements made by Delcidio Amaral, a turncoat senator from his own party and whistleblower in the Petrobras scandal. According to his statements, the former president had tried to buy witnesses to avoid being dragged into the fray. Amaral’s statements were made under a Brazilian law that allows for the reduction of sentences if the testimony supports the magistrate’s hypothesis.