Brazil's former president has appeared in court to deny allegations he was part of a plot to obstruct a massive corruption probe by keeping a former Petrobras executive from revealing what he knew. News media websites in Brazil published Tuesday's testimony by Lula da Silva, who told a federal court in Brasilia that he didn't even know Nestor Cervero, a former director of the State oil company.
Petrobras is at the centre of a wide-ranging investigation into kickbacks and inflated contracts at State companies. Cervero was convicted in connection with the probe and is cooperating with prosecutors. Prosecutors allege that Silva and several others plotted to offer Cervero money to keep him from giving evidence to authorities.
”I have absolutely no reason to have any problem with the testimony of Cervero — no reason at all. I don't know (him), Lula said, according to a video provided by the court.
At the beginning of nearly an hour of testimony, Lula was asked if he was familiar with the accusations against him and whether they were true. He responded: The information is false.
Lula, who was president in 2003-2010, is also facing charges in a handful of other cases linked to the probe. He has maintained his innocence in all of them, saying the allegations are politically motivated. Despite these legal challenges, Lula is leading some polls for next year's presidential election.
The former president occasionally appeared emotional, frustrated or even angry during his testimony. He made several self-aggrandizing claims, including that his presidency turned Brazil into a major player on the world stage, that he is considered the most important president in Brazil's history and that Brazilians see him as the most important world leader of the beginning of the 21st century.
He contrasted these successes with the indignity of seeing headlines every day claiming that some business executive or politician was going to level a new accusation against him. For about three years now, I have been the victim of, I would say, almost a massacre,” he said.
The Petrobras probe has grown into the biggest graft investigation in Brazil's history and has shocked the nation for the scale of corruption it has revealed. Prosecutors have relied heavily on signing plea bargains with certain defendants to make cases against others.
Also on Tuesday, federal police arrested two Rio de Janeiro state officials on charges of money laundering and accepting bribes in exchange for contracts for a subway line for the 2016 Olympic Games.
The arrests of Luiz Carlos Velloso, the state's undersecretary for tourism and former deputy secretary of transportation, and Heitor Lopes de Souza, a director for Rio's subway operator, are part of the larger Petrobras probe.