December 15, 2016 / 3:49 PM / 7 months ago

Brazil prosecutors hit ex-president Lula with more corruption charges

3 Min Read

Brazil's former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva attends the funeral of Cardinal and Archbishop of Sao Paulo Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns at Se Cathedral in Sao Paulo, Brazil, December 15, 2016.Leonardo Benassatto

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Prosecutors on Thursday charged former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, 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 charges 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.

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."

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 75 million reais ($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.

File photo: Brazil's former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva reacts during a meeting with Rio de Janeiro's Governor Luiz Fernando Pezao in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil December 3, 2015.Ricardo Moraes/File Photo

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 . The charges involve at least 6.4 billion reais in bribes.

Marcelo Odebrecht, the former chief executive of his family's construction firm, who is serving over 19 years in prison after being found guilty on other Car Wash charges, was also hit with more corruption charges on Thursday.

But he has turned state's witness, along with nearly 80 other executives from the firm, and their statements are expected to implicate more than 200 politicians. Odebrecht is expected to remain imprisoned until the end of 2017 and remain on probation for several years in exchange for his testimony.

Reporting by Brad Brooks; Editing by Grant McCool and Leslie Adler

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