BRASILIA – Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva proclaimed on Tuesday his innocence while answering questions from a judge in a case where he is charged with obstruction of justice.
Besides denying the accusation that he sought to interfere with the investigation of a $2 billion corruption scandal centered on state oil company Petrobras, Lula, who faces five separate indictments, called himself a victim of “political persecution.”
He was greeted outside the Brasilia courthouse by more than two-dozen supporters urging him to run in next year’s election to choose a successor to incumbent President Michel Temer, who took office last August after Congress ousted Dilma Rousseff, Lula’s protege and successor.
Though the leader of the center-left Workers Party (PT) declined to answer questions from reporters, Magistrate Ricardo Leite authorized the release of parts of Lula’s statement to the court.
“It is nearly three years that I have been the victim of a near massacre,” the former head of state told the judge, alluding to the 2014 launch of Operation Lava Jato (Car Wash), as the Petrobras probe is known.
Lula, whose wife died last month, complained of waking up every day with a crowd of journalists waiting outside the door in expectation of his arrest.
Addressing the substance of the obstruction charges, he denied having arranged for the offer of a bribe to disgraced Petrobras executive Nestor Cervero in exchange for his silence in the corruption investigation.
The charge is based on testimony from former Sen. Delcidio Amaral, himself a defendant in the Petrobras case.
Amaral said that while serving as the PT leader in the Senate, he was approached by Lula with instructions to pay 250,000 reais ($79,000) to “buy the silence” of Cervero.
The plan also called for helping Cervero flee the country, according to Amaral.
“I am not acquainted with Cervero. I only learned of him when he became famous” following his arrest in the Petrobras case, Lula told the court Tuesday. “If anyone spoke with Cervero it was Delcidio (Amaral), who was his friend.”
Lula repeated his claim that the indictments are meant to prevent him from returning to the presidency in 2018, pointing to polls showing him as the clear favorite.