Brazilian Police Raid Ex-President Lula’s Home in Corruption Probe

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Brazilian police raided the home of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva early Friday morning to bring him in for questioning for the sprawling corruption case centered on the oil giant Petrobras.

"No one is exempt from investigation in this country," said public prosecutor Carlos Fernando dos Santos Lima. "Anyone in Brazil is subject to be investigated when there are indications of a crime."

Police turned up Friday morning at multiple addresses belonging to the Silva family, including his residence near Sao Paulo and the Instituto Lula, his nonprofit organization, according to statements at a press conference. Silva,the country's most towering political figure - he was mainly known as "Lula" - and two of his sons were brought in for questioning, according to officials in Curitiba, where the Petrobras probe is centered.

Acting on a warrant that required Silva to answer questions in the probe, he was taken to the federal police station at Sao Paulo's Congonhas airport. The Instituto Lula's spokesman, Jose Chrispiniano, said Silva's questioning had wrapped up after nearly four hours, but it was not immediately clear whether the former leader had left the airport.

Officials said they were looking into 30 million Brazilian reais ($8.12 million) in payments for speeches and donations to the Instituto Lula by top construction firms - crucial players in the Petrobras corruption scheme. They were also looking into whether renovations and other work at a country house and beachfront apartment used by Silva and his family constituted favors in exchange for political benefit.

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In a statement, the Lula Institute said "nothing justified" the morning's events and denied any wrongdoing.

"The Instituto Lula reaffirms that Lula never hid patrimony or received undue advantages either before, during or after governing the country," the statement said, referring to the former leader by the nickname.

Silva himself last week denounced suggestions of personal corruption, accusing the media and opposition of spreading "lies, leaks and accusations of criminality."

Clashes broke out between Silva's supporters and detractors outside the ex-president's apartment in Sao Bernardo do Campo and Brazil's GloboNews network showed crowds at Congonhas airport as well, with several hundred Workers' Party supporters chanting pro-Silva slogans.

Lima said the decision to take Silva in for questioning was made for security reasons, to avoid demonstrations and other obstructions.

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Silva, a plainspoken former union leader, was among the most revered leaders in Brazilian history when he left office in 2010, leaving the post in the hands of his chosen successor, Dilma Rousseff. He has made no secret of his continued presidential aspirations, saying he was mulling a run for the office in 2018.

Silva's Workers' Party reacted angrily, saying in a Twitter post, "we all must react now," with a hashtag reading "LulaPoliticalPrisoner." The party later removed the hashtag, but has renewed calls for sympathizers to take to the streets in support of Silva.

Image: Federal police officers stand in front of the apartment building that former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva lived in Sao Bernardo do Campo
Federal police officers stand in front of the apartment building that former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva lived in Sao Bernardo do Campo, Brazil, March 4, 2016. PAULO WHITAKER / Reuters

In a video address, the party's president, Rui Falcao, denounced Friday's actions as "a political spectacle that shows what the true character of this operation is."

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The summons of Silva also brings the sprawling probe closer to Rousseff, though the once-close allies have visibly distanced themselves in recent months.

While Rousseff herself has not been accused of wrongdoing in the Petrobras probe, she is facing impeachment proceedings in Congress for her government's alleged use of the country's pension fund to shore up budget gaps. Rousseff denies the allegations.

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