Brazil's former president Lula to stand trial for corruption

Brazil's former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva talks at a press conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sept 15, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

BRASILIA (AFP) - A Brazilian judge accepted corruption charges on Tuesday (Sept 20) against former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, after prosecutors accused the popular leftist of masterminding a massive embezzlement ring at state oil company Petrobras.

Lula, 70, will now face trial for his role in a scandal that has pitched Brazilian politics into chaos, with some of the country's most powerful leaders and parties accused of plundering the coffers of Brazil's largest company.

"Given that there is sufficient evidence of (Lula's) responsibility... I accept the charges," Judge Sergio Moro, the head of a sweeping probe into the Petrobras case, said in his decision.

The charges allege that Lula received the equivalent of 3.7 million reais ($1.1 million) in bribes.

Among the accusations are that Lula and his wife received a beachside apartment and upgrades to the property from a major construction company, OAS, which was one of the players in the Petrobras scheme.

Prosecutors last week singled out Lula - who was president during much of the time that Petrobras was being systematically fleeced by a network of corrupt executives and politicians - as the scheme's "supreme commander".

Lula, who presided over an economic boom from 2003 to 2011, will now go head to head for the first time with Judge Moro, whose anti-corruption investigation may thwart the former union leader's hopes of a political comeback in the 2018 presidential election.

Lula is the co-founder of the once unstoppable Workers' Party. Its 13 years in power ended last month when his hand-picked successor, Dilma Rousseff, was convicted of budget irregularities in an impeachment trial.

The charges against Rousseff were unconnected to the Petrobras case, but the scandal - combined with Brazil's worst recession in decades - did much to bring her down.

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