Prosecutors on Thursday hit former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, known as Lula, his wife and a former finance minister with more corruption charges in the investigation of graft at state-run oil company Petrobras.
It is up to federal Judge Sergio Moro to decide if the new allegations will result in another trial for Lula, who is already accused in Moro's court in southern Brazil with separate corruption charges. A ruling on those charges is not expected before late January or early February.
Lula, an extremely popular two-term president who left office in January 2011, faces another trial on graft charges in a Brasilia court, but a start date has not been set. Even the unpopular current president, who came to power through a parliamentary coup, warned that Lula should not face punishment.
“If Lula was jailed, would this cause a problem for the government? I think it would cause a problem, not just for the government, but for the country,” President Michel Temer said in an interview with TV Cultura.
Lula's lawyers have repeatedly said that he is innocent of all accusations. In an emailed statement Thursday night, lawyer Cristiano Martins called the latest charges "a work of fiction." They said it was a political move to prevent his presidency, after he announced he would run in 2018 following the impeachment of his close ally, Dilma Rousseff.
In bringing the new charges, prosecutors said in a statement that Lula oversaw a scheme in which Latin America's biggest construction firm, Odebrecht, paid US$22.18 million in bribes to win eight Petrobras contracts.
Prosecutors said Lula orchestrated the political appointment of Petrobras executives who would carry out the kickback scheme, with the money being funneled back into the campaign coffers of Lula's Workers Party and its allies, including Brazil's current ruling party, the Democratic Movement Party.
Lula's wife, Marisa, was also charged in the case with money laundering, while Lula's former finance minister, Antonio Palocci, was charged with corruption and money laundering. Both already face separate charges and trials in the Petrobras case.
Prosecutors said part of the illicit money made its way to Lula and his wife and that they benefited by surreptitiously using Odebrecht money to purchase and renovate real estate.
The so-called Car Wash investigation is the biggest graft probe yet carried out in Brazil. So far, 200 people have been charged and 81 have been convicted. Brazil's President Michel Temer received more than US$3 million from Odebrecht, reported Brazil's Veja magazine last week.