Brazil apex court okays questioning of ex-president Lula

Brasilia, Oct 3 (IANS/EFE) Brazil’s Supreme Court has given the Federal Police permission to question former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as part of its probe into a massive corruption scheme centred on state-controlled oil giant Petrobras, judicial officials said.

Supreme Court Justice Teori Zavascki accepted police’s proposal — and the Attorney General’s Office’s recommendation — that Lula be questioned as a witness and not as a suspect in the alleged decade-long contract-rigging and kickback scheme.

In last month’s motion, Federal Police said the erstwhile head of state “may have benefitted” from the scheme, which Petrobras says resulted in corruption-related losses of $2 billion.

Federal Police said in its request that it intended to question Lula within 80 days, although Zavascki’s ruling, published on Friday, did not establish any time frame.

The judge also authorised police to question former institutional relations minister Ideli Salvatti, erstwhile presidential chief of staff Gilberto Carvalho and Petrobras ex-CEO Jose Sergio Gabrielli, all of whom served under Lula, who was in office from 2003 to 2011.

These former officials will also be questioned as witnesses.

Federal Police decided to request permission to question Lula even though the former head of state does not enjoy the same special rights enjoyed by sitting politicians, who can only be prosecuted by the Supreme Court.

In its motion, Federal Police said it believed Lula may have “obtained benefits for himself; his party, the still-governing PT (Workers Party); or his administration by maintaining a base of political support sustained at the cost of illicit business” at Petrobras.

The wide-ranging scandal involves allegations that leading Brazilian engineering and construction groups overcharged the oil giant for contracts, splitting the extra money with corrupt Petrobras officials while setting aside some of the loot to pay off politicians who provided cover for the graft.

The purported scheme ran from at least 2004 to 2014.

The AG’s office also is probing whether Lula has improperly used his influence abroad since leaving office to benefit Salvador-based engineering giant Odebrecht and other Brazilian firms implicated in the Petrobras scandal.

–IANS/EFE

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