Brazil former presidents Lula and Rousseff charged in corruption case

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff (R) attend the opening ceremony of the national congress of the Workers' Party in Brasilia, Brazil, June 1, 2017. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil’s top prosecutor on Tuesday charged former Presidents Luis Inacio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff along with fellow Workers Party members with forming a criminal organization, the latest accusations in Brazil’s sprawling corruption scandal.

The prosecutor, Rodrigo Janot, alleged that eight members of the Workers Party, including Lula and Rousseff, committed a series of crimes involving state-owned oil firm Petrobras such as cartel formation, corruption and money laundering.

They were the first criminal charges to be leveled against Rousseff, who was impeached in 2016 for breaking budgetary laws.

The 230-page document filed with the Supreme Court accused Lula of heading the organization.

Lula’s lawyer said the law was being misused to persecute the former president.

The Workers Party said in a statement that the charges were baseless and being used to divert attention from other investigations, including one into a former federal prosecutor, referring to a case Janot announced on Monday.

A representative for Rousseff said the prosecutor’s office had offered no evidence of the crimes and called on the Supreme Court to guarantee the right to defend against them.

Lula, who is still Brazil’s most popular politician, is appealing a corruption conviction that would bar him from running for president in 2018. He faces four other corruption trials.

The charges stem from the Operation Car Wash investigation that uncovered a cartel of companies paying bribes to officials to secure Petrobras contracts, revelations that have spawned a host of investigations that has shaken Brazil’s political system and economy.

Reporting by Ricardo Brito; Additional reporting by Patricia Duarte, Eduardo Simões and Jake Spring; Editing by Leslie Adler and Peter Cooney