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Brazil's Lula probed for membership in criminal corruption ring

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Brazil's ex-president Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva will be probed for alleged membership in a crime ring organising the mass looting of the state oil company Petrobras, the Supreme Court said on Thursday.

[BRASÍLIA] Brazil's ex-president Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva will be probed for alleged membership in a crime ring organising the mass looting of the state oil company Petrobras, the Supreme Court said on Thursday.

Justice Teori Zavascki authorised the inclusion of Lula, who already faces other related corruption charges, in a group of politicians suspected of organizing an embezzlement ring at Petrobras.

Prosecutors had previously named Lula, 70, as the mastermind of the huge corruption scheme in which a network of executives, politicians and big contractors plundered Brazil's flagship national company.

The probe into the scheme has already seen a Who's Who of Brazilians investigated, charged or convicted, shaking the country's elite to the core.

However, no concrete evidence has been presented so far of Lula's role as the ringleader.

The leftist former president has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, saying his multiple legal problems related to the Petrobras scheme are a campaign to knock him out of contention for returning to power in the 2018 presidential election.

On Wednesday, he was charged separately with having taken a bribe in relation to a sweetheart deal obtained by a nephew from construction colossus Odebrecht for a hydroelectric project in Angola.

Lula was earlier charged with taking bribes from OAS, another construction company that, like Odebrecht, has been heavily linked to the Petrobras scheme.

Lula served from 2003-2010 and left office with sky-high ratings and international approval for his work lifting tens of millions of Brazilians from poverty while presiding over an economic boom.

He remains one of the most popular potential candidates for 2018, opinion polls show.

However, the Workers' Party, which he founded, was trounced in municipal elections on Sunday and Lula's legacy severely tainted by corruption scandals and the steep decline of the economy.

AFP