CURITIBA, BRAZIL: Former Brazil president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was due to leave prison for the first time in seven months on Wednesday to face questioning over corruption and money laundering in relation to the wide-ranging “Car Wash” graft probe.
A massive security operation was put in place in the southern city of Curitiba, where the 73-year-old has been held since April, as press and devoted supporters flocked to the federal court where he is to be interrogated by Judge Gabriela Hardt.
Already serving a 12-year sentence for accepting a seaside apartment as a bribe during his 2003-10 presidency, Lula is to be questioned over refurbishments to a farm believed to belong to him, and paid for by major construction companies between 2010 and 2014 in exchange for big contracts with state oil giant Petrobras.
His defence lawyers maintain he is innocent of all charges against him and has accused authorities of harassment.
His supporters are convinced he’s done nothing wrong and have held a vigil outside the federal police jail where he has been held since he was detained.
“It’s the first time that Lula will see our vigil. We talk to him without him seeing us,” Roberto Baggio, coordinator for the Landless Farmworkers Movement (MST) in Parana state, told AFP on Tuesday.
“Tomorrow he will see how much gratitude the people are showing him.”
Lula is credited during his two terms as president with lifting millions of Brazilians out of poverty and the landless movement is a close ally to his Workers Party (PT).
Hardt was scheduled to interview Lula at 2 pm (1600 GMT). She replaced Sergio Moro, the judge who jailed the iconic leftist leader and who has since been named justice minister by far-right president-elect Jair Bolsonaro.
Bolsonaro swept to victory in last month’s election, helped in no small part by Lula being barred from running due to his incarceration.
Lula’s lawyers have accused Moro of bias and demanded the leftist leader’s release.
“Lula is the victim of a judicial witch-hunt unleashed by an agent wearing a judge’s gown … who sought to cancel his freedom and rights,” said the lawyers.
Before being questioned, Lula was due to meet with the man who replaced him as the PT candidate during last month’s election, Fernando Haddad, as well as PT president Gleisi Hoffmann.
In addition to the current court case, Lula is implicated in four others but insists he is innocent of all accusations and has denounced the charges as political persecution.