By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – The weekend in many Brazilian cities was marked by protests for and against the questioning of former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Friday by federal prosecutors investigating the Lava Jato (Carwash) mega corruption scheme.
On Sunday, approximately two hundred Lula supporters rallied outside Rede Globo headquarters in Rio de Janeiro against what they called extreme media bias, chanting phrases like “to attack Lula is to attack me”.
For these supporters the former leader’s detention was a political act by ‘opposition forces’ afraid the ex-president will run again for the presidency in 2018. “If he runs, he will win,” shouted a supporter to TV cameras during the rally.
Meanwhile in São Paulo the door of the national PT office, as well as the walls surrounding Lula’s building and the Lula Institute were spray painted during the weekend with phrases such as “Lula thief! Stop corruption! Your time has come! ” and “country of impunity”.
As a sign of solidarity with the former leader and her mentor, President Dilma Rousseff flew to São Paulo on Saturday to meet with Lula and his wife at his home. President Rousseff spent approximately an hour with the former president before leaving the building. On her way out the President shook the hands of some of the hundreds of supporters of the ex-leader who have been gathering outside Lula’s apartment since Friday.
The former president, whom U.S. President Barack Obama once called the world’s most popular politician, was taken in for questioning on Friday, March 4th, with Brazilian federal prosecutors saying that they had ‘very strong’ evidence that Lula had knowledge and even profited from the Lava Jato scheme.
Among the evidence disclosed by the prosecutors is a beachfront triplex apartment in upper middle class city of Guaruja, in the São Paulo coastline and a country house complex complete with lake and paddle boats, both said to be renovated by companies deeply involved with the Lava Jato scandal, as a favor to Lula.
“There is evidence that former president Lula received money arising from Petrobras scheme through the allocation and reform of a triplex apartment and a (country house) in Atibaia,” prosecutors said in a statement justifying taking in Lula for questioning. According to prosecutors Lula also received close to R$30 million through donations and lecture fees made by companies investigated in Lava Jato scheme.
Lula denies owning either the apartment or the country house. “If I haven’t bought it or paid for it, it’s not mine,” said the former leader on Friday after the three-hour questioning session.
Friday’s questioning of Lula is part of the mega money laundering investigation into state-controlled oil company, Petrobras, started by the Federal Police in March of 2014 that has implicated people from across the political and business spectrum, disrupting the political and economic scenario in Brazil for the past year.
The investigations have led to hundreds of arrests and unveiled millions of dollars worth of bribes given to Petrobras directors for oil contracts with the oil giant.