Brazil's ex-president Lula hits back at 'intimidation' by judges

Sao Paulo: Lawyers for Brazil's ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva appealed to the Supreme Court Sunday to annul a ruling blocking his appointment as cabinet chief, as his foundation condemned a judicial "intimidation" campaign.

Lula was barred Friday from starting work in his new job as chief of staff to his embattled successor, Dilma Rousseff, over suspicions of seeking the post to escape arrest in an explosive corruption investigation.

His foundation, the Lula Institute, lashed out at that ruling and what it called a "series of arbitrary actions" by the judiciary.

Brazils ex-president Lula hits back at intimidation by judges

Brazil's former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva speaks during a rally in support of him and Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff, in Sao Paulo. AP

"Lula is not accused of any crime, even after an absolutely invasive investigation and the intimidation he has been subjected to in recent months," it said in a statement.

The former president, a leftist icon, has been charged with money-laundering over a luxury apartment and a country home he is suspected of receiving as bribes from companies implicated in a multi-billion-dollar corruption scheme at state oil company Petrobras.

His foundation dismissed the charges as unfounded and accused investigators of waging a "media assassination" campaign.

It condemned Lula's "violent, coercive... and baseless" detention for questioning earlier this month, and an "arbitrary, unconstitutional" request for his arrest.

"All Lula wants is to contribute in every way possible to (Rousseff's) government so Brazil can get back to economic growth and creating jobs," it said.

Lashed by a deep recession, an explosive corruption scandal, impeachment proceedings and massive protests, Rousseff is facing speculation she will not survive her second term.

Her move to make her embattled mentor her chief of staff has triggered outrage among opponents, who filed some 50 court cases challenging the nomination.

Supreme Court judge Gilmar Mendes blocked the appointment until the full court can rule on its legality, sending Lula's case back to crusading anti-corruption judge Sergio Moro.

Until the high court reaches a final ruling on the matter, Lula risks being placed in preventive detention by Moro.

The court, which is currently in recess, is not due to reconvene until March 30.

Moro, the head of the Petrobras probe, caused an uproar last week when he leaked a wire-tapped phone call between Rousseff and Lula suggesting she appointed him to protect him from arrest with ministerial immunity.

The president told Lula she was sending him a document with his official ministerial appointment, to be used only "if necessary."

Lula, who stepped down in 2011 after presiding over a watershed economic boom, denies the charges against him and accuses opponents of trying to take out Rousseff in a "coup."

Impeachment gathering steam?

Separately from the corruption case, Rousseff faces impeachment proceedings in Congress over accusations of manipulating the government's accounts in 2014 to boost public spending during her re-election campaign, and in 2015 to mask the depth of the recession.

A poll released Sunday found that 62 percent of lawmakers in the lower house of Congress think Rousseff will be impeached.

A committee tasked with recommending whether to impeach her began work last week and holds a new session Monday.

The poll, by research firm Arko Advice, found the 65 committee members are almost evenly split: 32 favor impeachment, 31 are against and two are undecided.

To trigger an impeachment trial, two-thirds of the 513 lawmakers in the lower house and half the 81 senators must vote in favor.

Rousseff would then be suspended from her duties for up to 180 days. A two-thirds vote in the Senate would remove her from office.

A separate poll published Saturday found that 68 percent of Brazilians support impeaching Rousseff, up eight percentage points from February.


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Updated Date: Mar 21, 2016 09:05:11 IST

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