SAO PAULO – The head of Brazilian state development bank BNDES has denied that former President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva ever sought to influence lending decisions.
Luciano Coutinho testified before a congressional panel investigating BNDES transactions in search of possible connections with a massive corruption scandal at state oil company Petrobras.
Lula, who left office on Jan. 1, 2011, with high approval ratings, is suspected of having used undue influence to get BNDES to help finance overseas projects by Brazilian construction and engineering giant Odebrecht, one of the firms involved in the Petrobras scandal.
Coutinho said that during his tenure at BNDES, which began in 2007, Lula never attempted to influence loan decisions, whether during his presidential term or after leaving office.
“As a former president, Lula never interfered or asked questions related to BNDES projects,” Coutinho told lawmakers.
Opposition legislator Joao Gualberto cited a coincidence between countries where BNDES financed projects and nations whose governments signed cooperation agreements with the former president’s Lula Institute.
Prosecutors say that after leaving the presidency, Lula traveled at Odebrecht’s expense to Panama, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Ghana.
Epoca magazine reported in May that Odebrecht received $4.1 million in loans from BNDES to finance projects in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Cuba and Ghana.
Odebrecht denied ever hiring Lula as a consultant and said the former president’s company-financed trips to the Dominican Republic and Ghana in 2013 were for the purpose of delivering speeches touting “the potential of Brazil and its enterprises.”