Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva, the former leftist president of Brazil, testified for the first time on Tuesday before a federal court as part of the sprawling investigation into a multi-million-dollar corruption scheme at state-owned oil company Petrobras.
Lula was detained in relation to the investigation last year and has been accused of participating in a kickback scheme lasting years, reportedly taking place during his tenure as chief executive. His successor, Dilma Rousseff, was serving as Minister of Energy at the time Petrobras officials were charging thousands more per contract project and pocketing the change, according to prosecutors. Rousseff was impeached last year after over three million Brazilians took the streets nationwide demanding her ouster.
During his testimony Tuesday, Lula compared the investigation into his personal finances and relationship to “Operation Car Wash,” as the media have nicknamed the scheme, to a “massacre.”
“Do you know what it’s like to get up every morning thinking that the press is at the door to your house because you are about to be arrested?” he asked prosectors. “For about three years now, I have been the victim of, I would say, almost a massacre.”
The former president nevertheless described himself as “a Brazilian who wants the truth” and vowed to answer any questions. He dismissed the idea of the PT, which he founded, being treated like “a criminal organization.” He denied attempting to use his political power to prevent former Petrobras chief Nestor Cervero from testifying. “I have absolutely no reason to have any problem with the testimony of Cervero… I don’t know [him],” Lula claimed.
Lula is currently facing charges of obstruction of justice in relation to the “Operation Car Wash” investigation, which has resulted in the arrest of a number of legislators and high-ranking executive officials from both Lula’s socialist Workers’ Party (PT) and other parties. Prosecutors also announced last year that they had found evidence that Lula had used Petrobras funds to buy a summer home while still president and detained him for questioning.
Lula’s name also surfaced, along with Rousseff’s, on a list of 83 individuals General Federal Prosecutor Rodrigo Janot is seeking to interview in relation to the Petrobras investigation.
Brazil is run under a multi-party system in which the PT jockeys for power with outlets such as the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB), and the Progressive Party (PP). The current president, Michel Temer, served as Rousseff’s vice president despite being a member of the PMDB. The lower chamber of the Brazilian legislature is currently home to representatives from over twenty parties.
While he remains under investigation, Lula has done little to hide his ambition to win the 2018 presidential race. In July, shortly before her impeachment was confirmed, Rousseff alleged that the attempt to remove her was meant to prevent a second Lula tenure: “Today, despite all intentions to destroy his image, Lula remains one of the most beloved people. That is why he is going to run in the next election.”
The day before his testimony, Lula appeared at a rally condemning Temer for allegedly caring little about the nation’s poor. “They will never govern for you. For them, including the poor like we did is a waste,” he told a crowd. A tiny group of leftist agitators also congregated outside the Brasilia court Tuesday, chanting, “Brazil, urgent, Lula for president.”