Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva’s legal defense has hit back against growing allegations of fraud targeting the country’s most popular politician, saying that the judiciary and corporate-controlled media are obsessed with perpetuating a “climate of guilt” without evidence around certain figures.
In an interview with Brasil de Fato published Tuesday, Lula’s attorney Cristiano Zanin argued that leaks on certain cases combined with an elite-aligned corporate media agenda whip up public opinion to paint figures like Lula as corrupt by “removing the presumption of innocence.”
“They artificially create a climate of guilt over a person who has not actually committed any kind of crime,” Zanin said, adding that select information ends up “crystallizing” as public opinion with the help of a media landscape that acts swiftly to skewer its “enemies” with corruption allegations.
The statements come after confidential witness statements in key corruption investigations were leaked to the media almost immediately after the witness testified Monday implicated Lula.
Marcelo Odebrecht, former CEO of Brazil’s largest construction conglomerate, Odebrecht, which has been found guilty of running an international bribery network to win contracts, claimed that the codename “friend” in the company’s bribe list referred to Lula, local media reported. The statements referred to a payment to the Lula Institute, funding of the presidential campaign of Lula’s successor Dilma Rousseff, and other payments to “friend” in 2012 and 2013, when Lula was no longer in office.
But according to Zanin, the timing of the leaks as well as the trend in which information gets released suggests a campaign to stain the image of certain public figures, and not others.
“First the leaks show a selective action of those that leak because of the timing and how the leaks are related to certain people,” he told Brasil de Fato in response to a question about how to interpret such leaks. “Secondly, these leaks end up seriously undermining the presumption of innocence.”
Lula is a defendant in five separate corruption trials. He and his supporters have slammed the accusations as politically-motivated and part of a smear campaign to sabotage his bid for the 2018 presidential elections, for which he is the favored candidate, according to recent polls.
According to Zanin, the five cases swirling around Lula share common features.
“All are what we call frivolous accusations and without any materiality, because they are accusations that are not accompanied by any minimal evidence whatsoever,” he said. “Prosecutors and delegates put forward a thesis, and even if they can not get any material evidence to support this thesis, it becomes a court case.”
Lula has denied the allegations.
"They have invented accusations against me and made up plea bargain statements," Lula said last month, referring to the mechanism that has underpinned the breadth of corruption investigations known as Operation Car Wash, which have prosecuted dozens of politicians and business figures for fraud in state-run oil company Petrobras.
The latest leak isn’t the first time confidential evidence linked to Lula has been leaked to the media.
Last year, federal Judge Sergio Moro, the head of the Operation Car Wash investigations, leaked a private conversation between Lula and Rousseff after the Supreme Court ruled that the wiretap could not be used as evidence. Moro released the recording as alleged evidence that Lula’s appointment to Rousseff's cabinet was a move to guard him from prosecution.
Moro was moved off the case over questions of legality in the investigations, but months later — while the parliamentary coup against Rousseff was in its final stages — the controversial judge was put back on the investigation of corruption allegations against Lula.