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Brazil’s popular former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will stand trial for corruption after a judge agreed to rule on prosecutors’ claims that he received over $1m as the alleged mastermind of the country’s largest-ever bribery and kickback scheme.
Sérgio Moro, the crusading judge who is overseeing the investigation into corruption at oil company Petrobras, said late on Tuesday that there is sufficient evidence to bring Mr Lula da Silva to trial for corruption and money laundering and to try his wife for money laundering.
Federal prosecutors last week accused Mr Lula da Silva of being the “commander-in-chief” of the corruption scheme, alleging he received bribes of R$3.7m ($1.1m) including a penthouse apartment in the coastal resort of Guarujá.
Mr Lula da Silva and his wife Marisa Letícia Lula da Silva have vehemently denied any wrongdoing as well as ownership of the apartment.
In his statement on Tuesday Mr Moro said “there are signs that [the apartment] was granted, in 2009, to the ex-president without the transfer being formalised”.
He added that the values involved in this particular case — relatively small given that prosecutors say the corruption scheme cost Petrobras about R$42bn — should not be a reason to dismiss the charges.
“I take the opportunity to remind people that there are other ongoing investigations about supposed advantages received by the ex-president,” he wrote.
In a tearful address last week, Mr Lula da Silva accused the prosecutors of inventing the charges against him as part of a plan by the opposition to end his political career.
Despite the accusations against the charismatic former metal worker and trade unionist, a survey by polling institute Datafolha in July showed that he would still be the most popular candidate in the next presidential elections in 2018 with 22 per cent of the vote.
If found guilty by Mr Moro, Mr Lula da Silva could appeal to a higher “second instance” judge. If that judge also finds him guilty, Mr Lula da Silva would be banned from running for office for the next eight years, effectively ending any chances his Workers’ party (PT) has of soon regaining power.
Mr Lula da Silva’s unpopular protégée Dilma Rousseff was impeached last month for breaking fiscal laws, ending almost 14 years of PT rule.