Brazilian federal prosecutors asked a judge to file corruption charges against former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Wednesday.
The charges are based on Lula's involvement in an embezzlement scheme at the state oil company, Petrobras.
Attorney for the Federal Public Ministry Deltan Dallagnol said the graft scheme at Petrobras was designed to keep Lula's Worker's Party in power. He also claimed that losses on the back of the scheme amounted to almost 42 billion reais.
Lula's lawyer said the former president "vehemently denies" the allegations, and will fight the charges to prove his innocence.
Lula had already been charged with obstructing investigations into Petrobras. However, this is the first time that the Brazilian politician has had corruption charges filed against him personally.
The judge presiding over the Petrobras scandal, Judge Sergio Moro, will still have to decide to accept the charges and formally charge Lula. Moro, known for his crusading approach to fighting corruption, has already jailed dozens of executives and other individuals implicated in the scheme. A decision on whether he will accept the charges is expected in the next few days.
Kickbacks and condos
Lula could face arrest after he and his wife failed to declare ownership of a luxury seaside apartment in Guarujá, as well as a country house.
Police said that the apartment had been built and offered to Lula by OAS, a construction firm. OAS has been implicated in the graft scheme at Petrobras, which saw companies pay bribes to win contracts.
Lula denies ownership of the seaside condo.
Six other individuals are also implicated in the corruption case, alongside Lula and his wife.
"A politically motivated move"
In August, Lula's lawyer, Cristiano Zanin Martins, has dismissed the recommended charges as a politically motivated indictment.
"We are going to fight these charges as Lula is innocent," Martins said in August. "This has become a persecution, not a prosecution."
Charges a huge blow to Brazil's Workers' Party
The charges against Lula come just as he was considering running for president again in 2018. However, a criminal conviction would bar him from running for office for the next eight years.
Lula founded the leftist Workers' Party and presided over a period of economic prosperity on the back of social welfare policies between 2003 and 2010. He then helped his protégé and presidential successor Dilma Rousseff win the succeeding election in 2010.
However, a severe recession hit Brazil during Rousseff's second term, which saw her subsequently fail to secure a congressional consensus on tackling the downturn.
In August, Rousseff was kicked out of office in an impeachment trial after being found guilty of fiddling with government accounts. She dismissed the charges as a "coup" attempt.
Lula had been seen as the party's best chance of recapturing power. Now, according to Marcos Troyjo, a former Brazilian diplomat and co-director of Columbia University's BRICLab in Rio de Janeiro, "these charges are likely too big a blow to the political myth of Lula, to the candidate Lula and to the Workers Party as a whole for that to happen."
dm/sms, kl (Reuters, AFP)