(Adds comment from former president Lula’s lawyer)
By Aislinn Laing
SANTIAGO, Sept 17 (Reuters) - Michelle Bachelet, Chile’s ex-president and now the UN human rights chief, has denied allegations by a Brazilian businessman under investigation in Brazil’s massive Car Wash scandal that he paid $141,000 to cover debts incurred by her 2013 presidential campaign.
Bachelet, a socialist who served from 2006 to 2010 and again from 2014 to 2018, denied the claims that were reported on Monday by the Brazilian newspaper Folho de Sao Paolo. It said Leo Pinheiro told prosecutors as part of a plea bargain that his engineering firm, OAS, paid the money at the suggestion of the former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
“My truth is the same as always, I have never had links with OAS,” she told Chilean TV station 24 Horas in Geneva.
Lula is serving a 12-year prison sentence for taking bribes in connection with the scandal, which involved payoffs and political kickbacks on contracts with oil company Petrobras and other state-run companies.
Cristiano Zanin Martins, Lula’s lawyer, told Reuters his client had not recommended any such payments and that the latest claims were part of a “strategy” by prosecutors to persecute Lula “politically”.
“Leo Pinheiro’s version is denied by a statement filed on Feb. 7, 2017 by his own company - OAS - which said that ‘no contracts or donations were made to former presidents of the Republic, nor for institutes or foundations linked to them’,” he said.
Two other Brazilian presidents have been implicated in the scandal, along with two Peruvian presidents.
Folha cited messages between prosecutors working on Pinheiro’s case in a report that claimed he told them OAS paid the money to Bachelet’s campaign to ensure a consortium it was involved in retained a contract to build a bridge to the Chilean island of Chiloe.
In her response on Tuesday, Bachelet highlighted the fact that Pinheiro had failed to mention his claims to tell a Chilean prosecutor investigating the potential involvement of Chilean businesses or politicians in the cross-continental scandal.
She also noted that the Chiloe bridge contract was awarded not by her administration but by the government of Chile’s current president, Sebastian Pinera.
Pinheiro was sentenced to 16 years in prison for his role in the scandal but released after three years in custody last weekend after his plea bargain was ratified by Brazil’s Supreme Court.
Chile’s chief prosecutor, Jorge Abbott, said in a statement on Monday that he would await formal confirmation of Pinheiro’s claims from Brazilian prosecutors before taking any action.
“Whoever is ultimately implicated in this testimony, no one is above the law,” he said.
Representatives for OAS and Pinheiro did not reply to requests for comment. (Reporting by Aislinn Laing; additional reporting Stephanie Ulmer-Nebehay and Ricardo Brito Ramos; Editing by Dan Grebler and David Gregorio)