Brazil prosecutors say Lula acted for Saab to win jets order

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazilian federal prosecutors on Friday formally accused former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of having interfered in a government tender to buy new fighter jets in favor of Swedish plane maker Saab AB.

Brazil's former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva talks to the journalists during a press conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil, September 15, 2016. REUTERS/Fernando Donasci

Lula, who was no longer in the presidency when the suspected illegal practices happened, was accused of having used its influence over the subsequent Workers Party government to help Saab win the tender for 36 jets worth around $5.6 billion.

In exchange for its help, prosecutors said Lula’s son Luis Claudio Lula da Silva -- who is also accused in the probe -- was paid 2.5 million reais ($740,000) by Marcondes & Mautoni, a company who assists foreign firms doing business in Brazil and who prosecutors said worked for Saab.

Brazil’s former president is already a defendant in three criminal probes linked to the so called Car Wash investigation into large-scale corruption at state-controlled oil company Petrobras.

Lula’s lawyers denied any illegal participation of the former president or his son in the process.

They said the payment Lula’s son received from Marcondes & Mautoni referred to services effectively executed by Luis Claudio Lula da Silva, such as organizing American style football championships in Brazil.

They have denied in the past the veracity of all the accusations against the former president, saying he has become a target of political persecution.

Saab representatives in Brazil said they were in the process of acknowledging the accusation and would eventually comment at a later stage.

Marcondes & Mautoni could not be reached. A message on their website says the company is ‘undergoing the implementation of a compliance program’.

Prosecutors said Lula’s acts in favor of Saab took place between 2013 and 2015. He left office in 2010.

The Brazilian government announced late in 2013 that it had chosen the Gripen NG fighter jet produced by Saab. The Swedish plane beat Boeing’s F-18 Super Hornet and France’s Rafale, produced by Dassault Aviation.

The contract with Saab was signed in 2014.

Reporting by Eduardo Simões and Marcelo Teixeira; Editing by Alistair Bell