Brazil’s Lula Fights Back Against Charges in Impassioned Speech

(Bloomberg) -- Brazil’s former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva fought back against charges of corruption and money laundering, a day after federal prosecutors accused him of directing the biggest corruption scheme in the nation’s history.

The former labor union leader spent much of his televised address in Sao Paulo on Thursday defending his legacy and rallying party supporters, saying his adversaries were trying to end his political career. He generically dismissed claims that he enriched himself and oversaw a massive system of kickbacks. But he provided little detail on the prosecutor’s claims, saying lawyers had advised him to be careful with his choice of words.

"They constructed a lie, an untruth," Lula said, struggling with a breaking voice and repeatedly wiping away tears when talking about his family’s exposure to public scrutiny in recent months. "If they want to get me, they’ll have to fight me in the streets."

Wednesday’s charges against Lula represent the most dramatic development to date of the so-called Carwash probe, a two-year investigation into corruption at Petrobras. Dozens of top business executives have been jailed and around 50 politicians are under investigation for their role in siphoning billions of reais in over-priced contracts from the state-run oil company.

Prosecutors accuse Lula and his wife, Marisa Leticia, of allowing construction company OAS SA to pay for improvements at a beach-side apartment he frequented in return for political favors. They also described the former president as "commander-in-chief" of the corruption scheme at Petrobras, which may have cost the company 42 billion reais ($13 billion). Sergio Moro, the federal judge leading the Carwash probe, must now decide whether to accept the charges and put Lula on trial.

Lawyers for the former president said on Wednesday the prosecutors had failed to provide any evidence for their claims, adding that he never owned the apartment that OAS renovated. They argued the accusations are intended to stop Lula from running in the 2018 presidential election. Once the most popular president in Brazil’s history, the former trade union leader remains a hugely influential politician, though his reputation has taken somewhat of a hit with the allegations.

Brazil’s Lula Fights Back Against Charges in Impassioned Speech

"This story has only begun. I’m 70 years-old and I want to live another 20," Lula told cheering supporters. "I’m preparing myself. I’m fit."