SAO PAULO: Police searched the home of Brazil’s powerful ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and detained him for questioning Friday in a probe into a huge corruption scheme.
Agents searched his house in Sao Paulo, the offices of the Lula Institute, and houses of family members and associates, Jose Chrispiniano, a spokesman for Lula and his institute, told AFP.
Federal police said that Lula was being targeted as part of the Operation Car Wash probe into an embezzlement and bribery conspiracy centered on state oil company Petrobras.
The corruption scandal, which has already seen a Who’s Who of Brazilian politicians and businessmen face charges, is believed to be the biggest ever in Brazil.
Lula, who was president from 2003-2010, remains one of Brazil’s most influential figures and his fate is closely linked to that of his successor, President Dilma Rousseff, and the future of the ruling Workers’ Party.
Officials said that a major sweep including detentions and searches of properties had taken place in three states.
“About 200 federal police and 30 auditors served 44 warrants, including 33 warrants for search and seizure and 11 for detention for questioning,” the federal police said.
The operations in Rio de Janeiro, Bahia and Sao Paulo states involved probes into “corruption and money laundering, among other crimes practiced by various people in the context of the Petrobras criminal scheme.”
The allegations against Lula center on a luxury seaside apartment and country house that authorities say were tied up in the corruption network.
“There is evidence that former President Lula received assets arising from the Petrobras scheme through the allocation and renovation of a triplex apartment and a site in Atibaia (as well as) luxury furniture,” the federal police said in their statement.
Lula denies ownership of the apartment and any involvement in the Petrobras scheme.
Authorities were to hold a press conference at 1300 GMT.
The news came a day after a bombshell claim by a Brazilian magazine that a former close ally of Lula and Rousseff a senior Workers’ Party senator who has already been charged in the Car Wash probe was preparing to testify against them.
Senator Delcidio do Amaral, who was arrested last November, was reportedly negotiating a plea bargain deal with prosecutors in which he would testify that Rousseff obstructed the Petrobras probe and that Lula had also been involved in the scheme.
The report, although unconfirmed, sparked a furious reaction from Rousseff’s government and the president said in a speech that fighting corruption was her “first priority.”
Both Lula and Rousseff are also facing political heat after the arrest of their former campaign manager, Joao Santana, who allegedly took money originally embezzled from Petrobras.
No allegations have been made officially against Rousseff in the Petrobras scandal. But she faces a growing number of other problems that could see her removed from office.
The former leftist guerrilla, who has become deeply unpopular as Brazil sinks into ever deeper recession, faces an impeachment drive in Congress over her alleged breaking of fiscal rules. She also is being investigated for allegedly improper campaign finances in the electoral court.