Arrest of Lula, hero to millions, in corruption probe stuns Brazil

viernes 4 de marzo de 2016 15:24 GYT

By Brad Brooks and Paulo Prada

RIO DE JANEIRO, March 4 (Reuters) - Rising from a shoeshine boy to become Brazil's first working class president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is a hero to millions of Brazilians and the very face of change in Latin America's biggest country.

His detention for questioning on Friday in a massive corruption probe may also make him a symbol for many Brazilians of another trend: the end of impunity for the nation's powerful.

A 70-year-old metalworker and union leader who governed Brazil from 2003 until 2010, Lula presided over an economic boom that raised Brazil's profile on the world stage, lifted more than 40 million people out of poverty and enabled him to hand pick a successor candidate, President Dilma Rousseff.

But that has all fizzled, with Brazil in recession, Rousseff scrambling for political survival and millions of Brazilians lamenting a lost chance for their country to enter the ranks of developed nations.

Now, prosecutors allege that Lula's administration oversaw a huge kickback scheme through Brazil's state-run oil company Petrobras that provided funding for the campaigns that kept his Workers' Party in power for the past 13 years.

"We could never have imagined what's happening now in Brazil," said Gil Castello Branco, founder of Contas Abertas, a government accountability watchdog in the capital, Brasilia. "Civil society is now truly believing in a new era, with less corruption and impunity."

Lula was not formally charged on Friday and was released after three hours of questioning by police.

But prosecutors say there is strong evidence that illicit money was used to finance Workers' Party campaigns and that Lula received payments and favors from companies in exchange for contracts with Petroleo Brasileiro SA, as the company is officially known.   Continuación...