BRASILIA – Brazilian former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will stand trial for alleged obstruction of justice in a case linked to the Petrobras scandal.
Federal Judge Ricardo Leite in Brasilia handed down the ruling Friday, a day after Lula’s attorneys filed a motion with the UN Human Rights Council accusing authorities in the South American nation of mounting a “judicial persecution” of their client.
Lula will be tried along with six other people, including a former senator from his Workers’ Party, or PT, and billionaire banker Andre Esteves.
All of the defendants are accused of scheming to keep Nestor Cervero, a former Petrobras executive sentenced to 12 years in prison for corruption and money laundering, from accepting a plea deal and revealing all he knew about a massive bribes-for-inflated-contracts scheme centered on the state oil company.
Amaral, who was arrested after being heard on a recording trying to dissuade Cervero from cooperating with investigators in exchange for a more lenient sentence, told prosecutors as part of his own plea arrangement that Lula entrusted him with coordinating a payment of 250,000 reais (some $77,000) to “buy the silence” of the former Petrobras executive.
Amaral, formerly the leader of the PT’s bloc in the Senate, also implicated now-suspended President Dilma Rousseff – who is facing an impeachment trial in the upper house for allegedly manipulating budget to minimize the size of the deficit – as part of his plea deal.
Leite, however, did not name Rousseff on Friday as one of the defendants in the obstruction of justice case.
As part of his plea deal, Amaral also said he and his co-conspirators were plotting to facilitate Cervero’s escape to some European country via Paraguay, although that plan never came to fruition.
Lula learned of the judge’s decision while attending a political event in Sao Paulo, where he took the microphone and said he knew little about the proceedings in that case but was “tired” of responding to accusations.
In a statement, the Lula Institute said the former president, a towering figure in Brazilian politics who governed from 2003 to 2010, had made it clear to the Attorney General’s Office that he never interfered or attempted to interfere with the Petrobras probe.
That investigation, known as “Lava Jato” (Car Wash), has uncovered a scheme whereby major Brazilian construction groups formed a cartel to overcharge Petrobras, splitting the extra money with corrupt oil company officials while setting aside some of the loot to pay off politicians who provided cover for the graft.
Lula’s attorneys say the source of all the allegations against their client is a confessed criminal with no credibility, referring to Amaral.
Lula, who was detained for questioning in March for allegedly hiding ownership of properties stemming from the Petrobras scheme, “cannot get justice in Brazil under its inquisitorial system,” prominent British human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, who is representing the former head of state, said in a video released this week by the Lula Institute.
“His telephones are being tapped, as are those of his family and his lawyers, and the intercept transcripts, even the audio transcripts, are being released for publication by a politically hostile media,” Robertson said.