Brazil's Lula brands charges 'pure fiction'
The popular Brazilian politician broke into tears twice during a press conference on Thursday, marking his first appearance after prosecutors accused him of being the mastermind behind the massive corruption scandal.
Lula pledged to cooperate with the authorities, describing the charges as "pure fiction."
"If they prove I was corrupt, I will turn myself in and be a prisoner," Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva told reporters in Sao Paulo.
The charges allege that the former president and his wife took some $1.1 million (1 million euros) in bribes related to the national oil company Petrobras. Lula, his wife and several other people were charged with embezzlement and money laundering.
The long-running corruption scandal has, so far, reached dozens of high-ranking officials across the political spectrum in Brazil, and the alleged bribes and kickbacks from the scheme are said to reach billions.
Last month, Lula's successor and ally, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached over an unrelated case of accounting irregularities. However, she has sparked anger with her bid to appoint Lula as her chief of staff, in apparent bid to grant him immunity and protect him from the Petrobras probe.
On Wednesday, Public Prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol named Lula as the leader of the criminal venture and linked the scandal with his Workers Party.
"He was the conductor of this criminal orchestra," Dallagnol said during a detailed presentation of the investigation. "The Petrobras graft scheme was aimed at keeping the Workers Party in power by criminal means."
Previously, Lula was charged with attempting to obstruct investigation in the same case.
Addressing the reporters on Thursday, Lula said the charges were an attempt to prevent him from running for president once again in 2018. The country is currently run by former Vice President Michel Temer, but the recent polls showed significant support for the leftist leader.
Lula said the graft probe was a conspiracy against his party.
"Like a soap opera intrigue, they created an epilogue: they elected Temer, removed Dilma from office... and now they want to destroy Lula's political life," he said.
The well-known judge, Sergio Moro, who is in charge of overseeing the probe, has yet to decide whether charges against Lula warrant a trial.
dj/sms (Reuters, AP, AFP)