When a poor man steals, he ends in jail; when a rich man steals he is named minister, the phrase belongs to Lula da Silva back in 1998 when he was leading the opposition, and it is now being repeated in social networks. In effect, on Wednesday Lula was named chief of staff by president Dilma Rousseff, who also phoned him to tell him she would be sending him the official decree on his nomination, so that he make use of it if necessary.
That extract was largely seen as confirmation that an aim of Lula's nomination to the post on Wednesday was to spare him possible arrest for corruption. Cabinet ministers can only be tried before the Supreme Court in Brazil and ministerial immunity will now protect Lula from prosecution in criminal court.
The recording was made public by federal judge Sergio Moro, who is heading a probe into Brazil's biggest ever corruption scandal. The recording was from Lula's bugged phone.
Lula vigorously denies involvement in the scandal, in which investigators say construction companies conspired with Petrobras executives to overbill the oil giant to the tune of $2 billion, paying huge bribes to politicians and parties along the way.
The release of the recording caused an uproar in Congress, where furious opposition lawmakers shouted Resign! Resign!. People spontaneously gathered in the capital Brasilia demanding that Lula step down and Rousseff leave office and to show their support Moro.
In Sao Paulo also several thousand protesters shouted Resign, resign at the foot of a high rise housing FIESP, the powerful federation of Sao Paulo industries that was illuminated in green and yellow -- Brazil's national colors -- in addition to a large inscription that read Impeach now.
The presidency responded by announcing in a statement that judicial and administrative measures would be taken to repair the flagrant violation of the law and the constitution committed by judge Moro, without going into specifics.
It said that Rousseff sent the decree to Lula only so that he could sign it and make it official since he had indicated he would not be in Brasilia for the official taking up of the role planned for Thursday.
Lula's appointment is a risky bet for Rousseff, who is battling crises on multiple fronts: an impeachment attempt, a deep recession, mass protests and the fallout of the Petrobras scandal. The impeachment push against Rousseff is not directly related to the corruption scandal, but has advanced in tandem with it, deepening the crisis engulfing her administration.
On Sunday, an estimated three million Brazilians flooded the streets in nationwide protests calling for Rousseff's departure.