Brazil's former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Tuesday slammed as a "farce" his pending prosecution for allegedly masterminding the large-scale plundering of the state oil giant Petrobras.
"I am sad because I just learned (Judge Sergio) Moro accepted the charge lodged, even though it is all a farce, a huge lie," the ex-president said from Brazil by videoconference to New York, where his lawyers held a solidarity event for him.
Lula, 70, will now face trial for his role in a scandal that has pitched Brazilian politics into chaos, with some of the country's most powerful leaders and parties accused of plundering the coffers of Brazil's largest company.
"Given that there is sufficient evidence of (Lula's) responsibility... I accept the charges," Judge Sergio Moro, the head of a sweeping probe into the Petrobras case, said in his decision.
The charges allege that Lula received the equivalent of 3.7 million reais ($1.1 million) in bribes.
Lula, who presided over an economic boom from 2003 to 2011, will now go head to head for the first time with Moro, whose anti-corruption investigation may thwart the former union leader's hopes of a political comeback in the 2018 presidential election.
Lula is the co-founder of the once-unstoppable Workers' Party. Its 13 years in power ended last month when his hand-picked successor, Dilma Rousseff, was convicted of budget irregularities in an impeachment trial.
The charges against Rousseff were unconnected to the Petrobras case, but the scandal -- combined with Brazil's worst recession in decades -- did much to bring her down.
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