Corruption charges filed against former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva, who is set to stand trial on Jan. 24, are examples of targeted “political oppression,” his defense team has asserted.
During a legal and logistical briefing held Monday, Lula’s team of lawyers addressed the charges, which they described as “politically motivated.”
In July 2017, Judge Sergio Moro alleged the former leftist president was guilty of corruption and money laundering, resulting in a ten-year jail sentence. The sentence was grounded on claims that he and his wife illicitly received millions in kickbacks from the OAS Group construction company as well as furniture and improvements for their beachfront apartment in Guaruja.
In exchange, Lula’s prosecutors claim, the construction company was able to win profitable contracts from Petrobras, Brazil’s state-owned energy company.
Lula has denied these allegations.
Now, the Workers’ Party leader is set for a regional appeals court trial to be held in the southern city of Porto Alegre.
“Accusations are opened against the country's biggest political leader without evidence to allow an accusation to be opened,” Lula’s defense team said during the briefing.
“There is an abuse of the right to accuse. Nowadays, there is political oppression on the part of the accusers.”
His attorneys went on to say that the only time Lula visited the apartment in question was in 2014, when he was no longer president of Brazil, so he could not have used any political advantage to help the OAS Group win contracts with Petrobras.
“The person registered as the owner of the apartment is OAS Ventures,” his defense team added.
“Lula never had the keys; never spent a day or a night in that apartment.”
They also questioned the main source of reports claiming his alleged corruption, Rede Globo, which has been critical of Lula’s political career, both as a president and a labor activist. Red Globo was founded by Roberto Marinho, one of the wealthiest media moguls in Brazil’s history.
“The accusation is based on a Globo TV report in which it is said that there is an indication of corruption with that apartment, saying it was from Lula,” his defense team said.
“But a report is not enough proof to be able to make a trial and open a trial.”
Finally, the leftist former president’s attorneys raised concerns about Leo Pinheiro, a former OAS Group executive whose testimony serves as primary “evidence” against Lula. Pinheiro’s testimony was given as part of a plea bargain after he was arrested on other charges.
“He (Moro) also takes the word of a witness who is imprisoned, and who is negotiating to lower their sentences,” they said.
“There is no strong evidence to allow an accusation to start — there is no email, no purchase contract, no key delivery, nothing. How can someone be condemned based on such a witness?”
In the past, Lula’s defense team has questioned the logic of Moro's case that the apartment was a kickback for Petrobras contracts awarded to the OAS Group. Those contracts, his defense team recalled, go back to 2009, making it strange for the kickbacks to come only four or five years later, once Lula had long ceased to be president.
Defenders of Lula also claim the charges are intended to prevent him for running for non-consecutive presidential re-election in October, adding to the argument that the case is politically motivated.
Several opinion polls conducted across Brazil have placed Lula as the frontrunner in the election.
Ahead of Lula's trial, thousands of his supporters are participating in mass demonstrations across Porto Alegre, where his trial will be held. The Landless Workers' Movement, known as MST, the Workers' Party and several dozen grassroots groups are participating in the demonstrations.
#Brasil | Mientras la marcha sigue por Porto Alegre, manifestantes pegan pancartas afirmando que elección sin @LulapeloBrasil es un fraude. #ComLulaemPOA #ComLulaEmPortoAlegre #EleicaoSemLulaEFraude #EleiçaoSemLulaFraude Foto: @Brasil_de_Fato pic.twitter.com/LM5tbE2rww— André Vieira (@AndreteleSUR) January 22, 2018
While the march continues through Porto Alegre, demonstrators stick banners saying that election without @LulapeloBrasil is a fraud.