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Brazil police urge graft charges against ex-leader Lula

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The Brazilian police recommended corruption charges against former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Friday as part of a probe into a huge embezzlement scheme at the state oil company Petrobras.

[RIO DE JANEIRO] The Brazilian police recommended corruption charges against former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Friday as part of a probe into a huge embezzlement scheme at the state oil company Petrobras.

The decision struck the latest in a series of blows against Lula and his suspended successor Dilma Rousseff as they battle to stop their once-mighty Workers' Party from crumbling.

Lula's lawyer branded it a politically motivated move.

The development came just as Lula was preparing to lend Mrs Rousseff a last-minute hand in her fight against impeachment at a Senate trial.

The case is based on Lula's alleged ownership of a luxury seaside apartment and a country house.

Police say the apartment underwent extensive renovations paid for by a construction company, OAS.

The firm was involved in the mammoth embezzlement scheme at Petrobras in which companies paid bribes to win contracts.

In the apartment case, police recommended corruption and money laundering charges against Lula, his wife, Marisa Leticia Lula da Silva, and three other suspects.

The couple "benefited from illicit gains from OAS to the value of 2,430,193.61 reals" or about US$743,000, linked to the renovation work, the police court filing said.

The recommendation must now be considered by prosecutors before prompting formal charges. A judge would still have to decide whether to accept the charges.

"This is a politically motivated indictment," Lula's lawyer Cristiano Zanin Martins said in a statement.

"We are going to fight these charges as Lula is innocent," he added.

"This has become a persecution, not a prosecution."

Lula, 70, who founded the leftist Workers' Party, served as president for two terms between 2003-2010 before helping Mrs Rousseff win election.

He presided over an economic boom and was hailed internationally for social welfare policies that helped lift millions of people out of poverty.

He also was key in Rio de Janeiro's winning bid to host South America's first Olympics, which finished on August 21.

But after a deep recession hit early in Mrs Rousseff's second term, she struggled to forge consensus in congress over tackling the downturn.

The party that dominated Brazilian politics for 13 years is now in peril. Mrs Rousseff is widely expected to be impeached.

Lula was planning to go to the capital Brasilia on Monday to support Mrs Rousseff when she appears before the Senate ahead of a vote on whether to remove her from office.

Her political rivals accuse her of fiddling the government accounts. She rejects the impeachment drive as a "coup". A conviction would dash Lula's hopes of running for a third term in office in the 2018 elections.

He has already been charged with attempting to obstruct investigations in the Petrobras case, in a probe dubbed "Operation Carwash". Reacting to that decision in late July, Lula said: "I doubt there is anyone more law-abiding than I am." Prosecutors also want to charge him with playing a wider role in the Petrobras affair.

The probe centers on a network of politicians who took bribes to facilitate inflated Petrobras contracts for crooked construction companies and others.

The suspects include several key figures from the conservative PMDB party of interim president Michel Temer, a leader of the impeachment drive against Mrs Rousseff.

If she is impeached, he will become full president until 2014.

AFP