SAO PAULO – Brazilian judges are scheduled to rule Wednesday on former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s appeal of his conviction on corruption and money laundering charges. The decision could prevent da Silva from running in this year’s presidential election and even potentially end the career of the enduringly popular politician. Here’s a look at the case and its importance.
WHAT WAS DA SILVA CONVICTED OF?
A judge has ruled that construction company OAS prepared and renovated a beachfront apartment in the city of Guaruja that was intended for da Silva. The apartment was purportedly to be payment for favours, including contracts with state-run oil giant Petrobras. Da Silva denies owning the apartment, saying he never had a key to it, never slept there and visited it only once.
WHAT WILL BE THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE RULING?
If the judges uphold the conviction, Brazilian law says da Silva should be barred from seeking office for several years — and thus ineligible for this year’s presidential election. But some legal experts argue there are ways around the law that would allow the 72-year-old to run. Da Silva is currently leading polls for the October vote and has vowed to continue to appeal any unfavourable decision. Although he was sentenced to 9 1/2 years in prison, it’s unclear if and how quickly he would be jailed if the conviction stands.
HOW DID THE CASE COME ABOUT?
The case against da Silva stems from Latin America’s largest-ever corruption probe, known as Operation Car Wash. Launched in March 2014, the investigation began a few miles from Brazil’s Congress with the arrest of a gas station owner suspected of delivering bribes. The trail eventually led to Paulo Roberto Costa, a former executive at Petrobras. Costa reached a plea bargain deal in which he revealed an immense graft scheme. Since then, dozens of executives and politicians have made plea deals.
HOW DID THE SCHEME WORK?
Prosecutors say executives of major construction companies such as Odebrecht, OAS and Andrade Gutierrez effectively formed a cartel that decided which firms would be awarded Petrobras contracts, often worth billions of dollars. Padded contract prices were used to pay off dozens of politicians and Petrobras executives, investigators say. Some cases involve other official favours and contracts with state entities other than the oil giant.
WHO HAS BEEN CAUGHT?
Dozens of top businessmen and politicians have already been convicted or are being investigated, a who’s who of Brazil’s elite. Among those convicted are former Odebrecht CEO Marcelo Odebrecht and ex-Chamber of Deputies Speaker Eduardo Cunha. President Michel Temer has been accused of corruption as part of the probe, though Congress has twice voted to spare him a trial while he remains in office. He denies wrongdoing.
Graft has long been part of doing business in Brazil, and historically the elite have operated with impunity. Previous corruption investigations, including into Odebrecht, ended with prosecutions of a few low-level people. It has been different this time due to a younger group of prosecutors and judges, plea bargains that have helped investigators uncover white-collar crimes that are otherwise hard to prove, and the practice of keeping defendants in jail while they await trial. Still, some have criticized the prosecutors and judges for overreaching, and the investigation has slowed recently.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR DA SILVA?
Da Silva is facing charges in six other cases. Among the accusations against him are that he received kickbacks in the form of properties for performing favours and accepted bribes from Odebrecht in exchange for helping the construction giant secure credit lines from the state development bank. Da Silva’s defence team has rejected all of the accusations, saying evidence is lacking or invented and that prosecutors and judges are persecuting him because they want to stain his time in office and prevent him from running for president again.