BRASILIA, Aug 30 (Reuters) - A Brazilian news magazine has accused former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of acting as lobbyist in Cuba for Brazil’s largest engineering firm Odebrecht, which built the container terminal at the Cuban port of Mariel.
In this week’s edition headlined “Our man in Havana,” Epoca magazine cited Brazilian diplomatic cables about visits to Cuba by Lula after he had left office. During those visits he sought to further Brazilian business interests on the island, it said.
One cable from 2014 reported on a meeting in Havana at which Lula discussed with Odebrecht executives how to secure Cuban guarantees for loans from Brazilian state development bank BNDES to finance new projects sought by Odebrecht in Cuba.
Lula’s foundation called the Epoca story “offensive” and “malicious” and “criminal manipulation” of government documents.
“These are normal activities. The ex-president did nothing illegal and was discussing sovereign guarantees for loans to Cuba in a meeting where a diplomat was present,” said Jose Chrispiniano, a spokesman for the Lula Institute.
Lula is under investigation for improperly using his influence to benefit Odebrecht, whose billionaire chief executive Marcelo Odebrecht was arrested in June in connection with the massive bribery and political kickback scandal focused on state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA.
Prosecutors say Lula frequently traveled abroad at Odebrecht’s expense after leaving office, from 2011 until 2014.
The inquiry puts the legacy of one of Brazil’s most popular former leaders on the line at a time when some are calling for the impeachment of his chosen successor, President Dilma Rousseff, for alleged campaign finance irregularities.
Epoca, owned by the Globo media group, said Lula lobbied to get Cuba good terms for a $682 million loan from BNDES that went to finance the Mariel port project built by Odebrecht.
The Lula Institute said that, by the time Lula visited Cuba in 2011, the loan for Mariel had been approved two years earlier in contracts “that no alleged lobbyist could alter.”
Lula, founder of the ruling Workers’ Party, said in a radio interview on Friday he could run again for the presidency in 2018 to prevent his opponents winning the elections.
While still an influential politician, Lula’s popularity has been hurt by the arrest on corruption charges of his former chief of staff and the treasurer of his party. Recent polls show the leftist leader would be defeated if he ran again. (Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Paul Tait)