Brazil's ex president Lula da Silva declared that there is “no more honest living soul in the country” than him, as he angrily rejected new corruption allegations linking himself and some of his relatives to the corruption scandal involving state-run oil company Petrobras.
The Workers’ Party (PT) icon, speaking to reporters and bloggers at a press conference, vowed to “sue” journalists and outlets who have printed unsubstantiated allegations linking funding for his final election campaign in 2006 to bribes paid in the Petrobras kickback scandal. Lula argued that he has always been “treated differently by the press” because of his trade unionist past.
Lula da Silva was accused this week of illegally using his influence in international business deals that allegedly benefitted Brazilian construction companies who worked with the state-run firm.
“Operation Car Wash” investigators looking into the scandal have exposed corruption involving large construction and engineering companies, including iconic Brazilian firms like Odebrecht Engenharia e Construcão and Construtora Andrade Gutierrez, who 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 and legitimized the wrongdoing.
Politicians from across Brazilian politics, including several former ministers who served in Lula’s governments and some who have held ministerial posts for current President Dilma Rousseff are under investigation. Many others have already been convicted for committing fraud and taking bribes at the state-run oil company. Others are suspected of having promoted the enactment of laws to exempt certain sector from tax in exchange for bribes.
Lula’s remarks came just days after the former head of Petrobras’ international division, Nestor Ceveró, said kickbacks he received as far back as 2006 made their way into Lula’s re-election campaign funds.
Ceveró is in jail, serving a 12-year sentence, for his role in the ongoing scandal at Petrobras. He has agreed however to become an informer for Federal Police investigators, in the hope of getting his sentence reduced, as like others before him have done.
With pressure building on the ruling PT, Rousseff and Lula, came out fighting, defending his reputation at a working breakfast in São Paulo.
“In this country there is not a living soul more honest than me,” he said. “No police chief, no public prosecutor, no church worker.” He added defiantly ”there may be somebody who is just as honest as me, but not more honest”.
Addressing the corruption scandal at Petrobras, the co-founder of the PT said that there is “a theory that there is a mafia in the company that has been created to steal it,” though he didn’t say who had put forth the theory or provide any evidence.
However, he did say it was the PT governments, especially Rousseff’s one (2010-2014), who began investigating institutional corruption.
“One day the Brazilian people will recognize that the fight against corruption only exists because we put the foundations in place to make that possible,” Lula said.
“Dilma will be recognized and exalted in this country for the work she has done. Everyone now knows, both poor and rich people, that they will be punished if they don’t toe the line.”
Lula also said Rousseff was “much more to the left than me. She has a consolidated ideological background. I am a liberal” he declared.
Ceveró, whose testimony to investigators has been leaked in some Brazilian media, reportedly said that the bribes involving Lula came from a contract in the southern African country of Angola and amounted to as much as US$12.3 million, close to 50 million reais.
He said Manuel Domingos Vicente, who was then-chairman of the board at Sonangol, Angola’s state oil company, “explicitly” said that “an amount of between 40 million and 50 million reais should be returned to Brazil as a kickback to finance (Lula’s) presidential campaign.”
Negotiations were conducted “by the top echelons of the Brazilian and Angolan governments, with (then)-finance minister Antonio Palocci representing the Brazilian side,” Ceveró is reported to have said.
Many politicians have been implicated as alleged or proven beneficiaries of corruption from overpriced contracts signed by Petrobras. But Ceveró ’s claim suggests the practices date back to before the start of the current investigation timeline, which begins in 2007.
Brazil’s securities regulator, CVM, also announced that it is investigating 10 further complaints against Petrobras, its auditors (including Pricewaterhouse Coopers and KPMG) and former company executives, implying more wrongdoing may soon be exposed. The new complaints allege that the accused parties misled investors, local media reported. Judgments, carrying civil but not criminal penalties, could be forthcoming later this year, a faster process than the judicial one, the CVM said.