Fri | Sep 22, 2017

Ex-leader Lula defiant in testimony

Published:Friday | May 12, 2017 | 5:00 AM
Demonstrators stand near a large inflatable doll depicting former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in prison garb in Curitiba, Brazil, Wednesday, May 10, 2017. Silva on Wednesday testified at the Federal Justice building in Curitiba in a corruption case against him. (AP Photo/Denis Ferreira Netto)

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva struck a defiant note after testifying for five hours Wednesday, telling thousands of supporters that the corruption case against him has been big on suspense but little on substance.

Minutes after emerging from face-to-face testimony with the federal judge overseeing a mammoth bribery investigation that has upended Latin America's largest nation, Lula blasted the entire process and ridiculed prosecutors' allegations that a construction company bought him an apartment as a kickback.

"After being massacred for two years, I was expecting to see a document showing that I bought the apartment," Lula said. "But there was nothing, nothing at all."

The hearing was closed to the press and not broadcast live, two of the many measures taken by Judge Sergio Moro and authorities in the southeastern city of Curitiba amid concerns of violence. Authorities began releasing portions of the video an hour after the session finished.

Thousands of supporters both of Lula and Moro were separated by a few miles, and hundreds of police in riot gear controlled several square blocks around the federal courthouse.

"Brazil's most popular politician in the last 30 years is going before a judge like any regular citizen," said Mauricio Santoro, a political scientist at the State University of Rio de Janeiro. "That is very rare in Brazilian politics."

Lula, president between 2003 and 2010, testified about allegations that he received a beachfront apartment as a kickback from construction company OAS. Prosecutors also allege OAS did repairs to the apartment and paid to store Lula's belongings. The former president denies the charges, along with those related to several other cases of corruption against him.

During his testimony, Lula lectured prosecutors, took swipes at his enemies and repeatedly claimed his innocence.

"I want to ask my accusers to take into the account that you are very young, you have a long road before yourselves," Lula said during his testimony, a direct critique of the young team of investigators leading the probe. "The prosecutors' office was not made for that. Accusations need to be serious, well grounded, not speculation."

Moro, who has become a national hero to many Brazilians while overseeing the 'Car Wash' investigation, kept a respectful tone but also pushed back against Lula.

"I have no personal issue with the former president," Moro said in his usually calm voice. "What will be decisive in the end is the collected evidence and the law."

Lula's testimony came after several attempts by his defence team to postpone the hearings. The last appeal, to the Supreme Tribunal of Justice, one of Brazil's top courts, was denied about an hour before his testimony began.

Lula's defence team argued it needed more time to analyse the case. Lula's opponents countered that it was an excuse to prolong the matter. The defence has also said it wants to call more than 80 witnesses.

Da Silva, who Brazilians simply call Lula, has reason to drag the process out. He has signalled his interest in running for president in 2018 and leads in the polls. He would be ineligible, however, if he should be convicted and the conviction was upheld on appeal.

- AP