The leftist politician has defended himself against charges in the massive "Car Wash" graft scheme. Lula's alleged role divides Brazil - some hail him as a working-class hero while others praise the investigating judge.
Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva arrived at the Curitiba courthouse on Wednesday surrounded by a sea of supporters.
Once inside, in testimony lasting nearly five hours, he slammed his fist on the courtroom table and tossed documents down to underline his insistence that there was no proof of his wrongdoing in a political bribery case that has engulfed the highest echelons of Brazilian politics.
"I consider this trial illegitimate and the accusation a farce," Lula told presiding Judge Sergio Moro, who warned the ex-president against wading into courtroom theatrics.
Lula then turned his ire to the Brazilian media, saying they had "massacred" his character and wanted "to get me dead or alive." He also accused the prosecution of raising charges against him "based on allegations in the press."
Lula stands accused of accepting a seaside apartment in return for helping the OAS construction company secure government contracts. However, he underlined in court that he had never wanted nor had he owned the apartment.
"Car Wash" corruption
The former president's trial is part of the larger "Car Wash" corruption probe, spearheaded by Judge Moro. The wide scale investigation, which began three years ago, uncovered that construction firms had paid billions in kickbacks to politicians in exchange for lucrative government contracts with the state-run companies. Employees at the Odebrecht construction firm have admitted to making the payments.
Thus far, operation "Cash War" has led to charges against 179 individuals, many of whom are high-profile politicians. The 71-year-old Lula is one of the most prominent defendants. His alleged role as kingpin in the corruption scheme has polarized national opinion.
A beloved Lula
Upon leaving the courtroom, Lula whisked himself away to a massive campaign style rally in Curitibia, where he was greeted by faithful followers sporting the red of Lula's Workers' Party chanting, "Lula, warrior of the Brazilian people."
Despite corruption charges, Lula remains a hero for many. The ex-president, who grew up in poverty and worked as a union leader before entering politics, greatly expanded the country's social safety system during his two terms in office from 2003 through 2010.
At the rally, Lula told his cheering supporters he had no plans to abandon a planned 2018 presidential candidacy.
"I am preparing to return as a candidate," Lula said. "I want to show that the elite is not competent to fix this country but that the steel worker... will manage."
If convicted, however, he would not be eligible to run.
Social media users also showed their support for Lula on Twitter using the hashtag "I trust in Lula" (#LulaEuConfio).
However, the leftist politician is not universally beloved. Many Brazilians have instead applauded presiding Judge Moro for his tireless pursuit of politicians, businessmen, and other prominent figures allegedly involved with "Car Wash." Moro's proponents tweeted he was the pride of Brazil (#MoroOrgulhoBrasileiro).
Current President Michel Temer, who took office upon the impeachment of Lula's successor Dilma Rousseff, addressed the rift and appealed for backers of both figures to remain calm.
"We need to calm down the country. The country can't be in this permanent state of conflict, with Brazilian against Brazilian," Temer said."
cmb/rc (AFP, Reuters)