Brazil's top prosecutor charges former president

Lula da Silva was charged with participating in a scheme to buy the silence of a former exec at state-run oil.

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Picture: Facebook.

SAO PAULO - Brazil's prosecutor-general has charged former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva with participating in a scheme to buy the silence of a former executive at state-run oil company Petrobras, newspaper Estado de S. Paulo said on Tuesday.

Lula's name was included in the case against Senator Delcidio do Amaral, who in December was charged with obstructing Brazil's largest-ever corruption investigation for trying to stop Nestor Cervero from collaborating, the paper said.

Dozens of construction executives have been accused of overcharging Petrobras for work and using excess funds to bribe politicians, a scandal that has triggered Brazil's most explosive political crisis in decades and increased calls for President Dilma Rousseff's ouster.

Estado de S. Paulo obtained court documents showing Prosecutor-General Rodrigo Janot had charged Lula, Rousseff's predecessor and mentor. The case is proceeding in secret at the Supreme Court and the federal prosecutors' office would not confirm the charge.

The Supreme Court did confirm on Tuesday that Janot asked for Lula and several of Rousseff's ministers to be formally investigated, including Chief of Staff Jaques Wagner, the minister in charge of legislative affairs, Ricardo Berzoini, and Rousseff's spokesman, Edinho Silva.

Janot is expanding the investigation largely because of testimony from Amaral, who decided to collaborate with the investigation in exchange for a lighter sentence. The court was already investigating some 50 politicians, including the leaders of both houses of Congress.

Janot's requests add to a growing uproar over just how many senior politicians are suspected of taking kickbacks from Petroleo Brasileiro SA, as Petrobras is formally known.

Senior politicians will likely continue to face legal problems, and possible jail terms, well past Rousseff's expected ouster. Brazil's Senate this month will weigh her suspension ahead of a trial on charges over budget irregularities.

The lower house of Congress voted overwhelmingly to impeach Rousseff last month. She says she has done nothing wrong.

Asked if he would avoid naming anyone under investigation to his Cabinet, Vice President Michel Temer, first in line for the presidency, said in a television interview on Tuesday that he was not sure.

Janot said in documents obtained by Estado de S.Paulo the "criminal organization" operating at Petrobras would not have been possible without Lula.

Lula's institute on Tuesday said Janot had offered a hypothesis without proof.

In a statement, Silva, Rousseff's spokesman and the treasurer of the 2014 re-election campaign whose finances have been called into question as part of the probe, said the campaign was clean.

Prosecutors in the southern city of Curitiba have also sought to investigate Lula. Their efforts have stalled as the Supreme Court weighs whether or not Rousseff can make him a minister, a move that would give him immunity from all but the high court.

Calls for Rousseff's ouster have grown as the investigation expands, though she has not been accused of taking bribes.