Lula charged over Odebrecht Angola work in Brazil graft probe

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Corruption charges against former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva piled up on Monday as prosecutors accused him and Marcelo Odebrecht, ex-CEO of engineering group Odebrecht SA, in an alleged bribery scheme related to contracts in Angola.

File photo: Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva reviews the honor guard during a reception ceremony at Havana's Revolution Palace January 15, 2008. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/File Photo

Lula already faced several other charges related to a sweeping kickback probe at state-run oil company Petrobras, and Odebrecht is serving a 19-year sentence after his conviction on other corruption allegations in the investigation.

The new charges come amid expectations that Odebrecht - Latin America’s largest construction conglomerate - is on the cusp of signing a leniency deal with prosecutors that would see its former CEO and dozens of other executives turn state’s witness.

Prosecutors have said the Odebrecht group, with its global reach and powerful connections inside Brazil, was at the heart of the long-running corruption scheme. Testimony from its executives could significantly expand the Petrobras probe, lead to new investigations and implicate more politicians.

Brazil’s top prosecutor Rodrigo Janot is investigating 66 politicians - many sitting lawmakers - for alleged participation in the Petrobras scheme, a number that could grow significantly with possible testimony from Odebrecht executives.

To date, nearly 200 executives and former politicians have been charged in the Petrobras probe and 83 have already been found guilty. Prosecutors are seeking 38 billion reais ($12 billion) in damages from companies and individuals involved.

Federal prosecutors in Brasilia said the latest charges are related to alleged crimes carried out from “at least” 2008 - when Lula was still president - until 2015.

They allege Lula used his influence while in office to secure financing from Brazil’s state development bank BNDES for undisclosed Odebrecht projects in Angola - and that Odebrecht in return paid 30 million reais in kickbacks to Lula and others.

Lawyers for Lula did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Prosecutors also said in their statement they are looking into Odebrecht projects elsewhere in Africa and Latin America to see if the company received low-interest BNDES loans in the same manner as the alleged scheme in Angola.

Lula was charged on Monday with corruption, influence peddling and money laundering - the latter of which prosecutors say they found on 44 occasions, often by Odebrecht paying inflated prices to subcontractor Exergia Brasil, which was run by a Lula confidant who was also charged in the case.

It is now up to a federal judge in Brasilia whether or not to accept the prosecutor’ charges against Lula and the others and put them on trial.

Lula had already been charged twice for various counts of corruption in connection with a massive anti-graft investigation centered on state oil company Petrobras, known formally as Petroleo Brasileiro SA.

Sergio Moro, a crusading anti-corruption judge in southern Brazil, has ruled that Lula will stand for at least one set of those charges. The trial date has not been set.

Prosecutors wrote in their Monday indictment that Lula also received kickbacks for an unspecified sum from Odebrecht for delivering lectures to business leaders abroad, although it is not clear if the speeches actually took place.

“It is suspected that ... those contracts and payments, in truth, were only to conceal the real reason behind Odebrecht’s payments to ex-President Lula,” the document read.

($1 = 3.22 reais)

Reporting by Brad Brooks; Editing by Andrew Hay