Former Brazilian president Silva quizzed in Petrobras corruption probe
Brazilian police have pulled former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and two of his sons in for questioning and searched homes and other buildings connected to the family in a sprawling corruption case centred on the oil giant Petrobras.
Police turned up at addresses belonging to Silva, including his residence near Sao Paulo and the Instituto Lula, his non-profit organisation, police said in a news conference in the southern city of Curitiba, where the Petrobras probe is centred.
Acting on a warrant that required Silva to answer questions in the probe, he was taken to the federal police station at Sao Paulo's Congonhas airport. The Instituto Lula's spokesman, Jose Chrispiniano, said Silva's questioning finished after nearly four hours.
"No-one is exempt from investigation in this country," said public prosecutor Carlos Fernando dos Santos Lima. "Anyone in Brazil is subject to be investigated when there are indications of a crime."
Mr Lima and police and tax officials said they were looking into 30 million Brazilian reals (£5.6 million) in payments for speeches and donations to the Instituto Lula by top construction firms - crucial players in the Petrobras corruption scheme.
They were also looking into whether renovations and other work at a country house and beachfront apartment used by Silva and his family constituted favours in exchange for political benefit.
In a statement, the Lula Institute said "nothing justified" the morning's events and denied any wrongdoing.
"The Instituto Lula reaffirms that Lula never hid patrimony or received undue advantages either before, during or after governing the country," the statement said, referring to the former leader by the nickname.
Silva last week denounced suggestions of personal corruption, accusing the media and opposition of spreading "lies, leaks and accusations of criminality".
Clashes broke out between Silva's supporters and detractors outside the ex-president's apartment in Sao Bernardo do Campo, and Brazil's GloboNews network showed crowds at Congonhas airport as well, with several hundred Workers' Party supporters chanting pro-Silva slogans.
Mr Lima said the decision to take Silva in for questioning was made for security reasons, to avoid demonstrations and other obstructions.
Silva, a plainspoken former union leader, was among the most revered leaders in Brazilian history when he left office in 2010, leaving the post in the hands of his chosen successor, Dilma Rousseff. He has made no secret of his continued presidential aspirations, saying he was mulling a run for the office in 2018.
Silva's Workers' Party reacted angrily, saying in a Twitter post, "we all must react now", and renewing calls for sympathisers to take to the streets in support of Silva.
In a video address, the party's president Rui Falcao denounced police actions as "a political spectacle that shows what the true character of this operation is".
The summons of Silva brings the sprawling probe closer to Ms Rousseff, though the once-close allies have visibly distanced themselves in recent months.
While Ms Rousseff has not been accused of wrongdoing in the Petrobras probe, she is facing impeachment proceedings in congress for her government's alleged use of the country's pension fund to shore up budget gaps. She denies the allegations.
During the press conference officials said police were carrying out 44 judicial orders as part of the broader Petrobras probe, known as Car Wash.
The Petrobras scandal has already ensnared top businessmen and heavyweight politicians from the governing Workers' Party as well as the opposition. On Thursday, the Supreme Court allowed corruption charges in the case to be brought against Eduardo Cunha, a top opposition figure and speaker of the lower house of congress.
Prosecutors say more than 2 billion dollars (£1.4 billion) was paid in bribes by businessmen to obtain Petrobras contracts. Investigators have also said some of the money made its way to several political parties, including the Workers' Party.