“I thought that my accusers were going to show a document, a payment, some proof. But they had nothing,” he said in an emotional speech to thousands of supporters in the southern city of Curitiba.
Lula appeared for several hours of questioning before a court in Curitiba over his alleged entanglement in a multi-billion-dollar bribery scheme in which politicians and officials allegedly handed out public contracts in exchange for kickbacks.
The investigation known as “Lava Jato” – “Operation Car Wash” – has thrown Brazil’s political class into tumult. As one of the country’s most popular political figures and a declared candidate for 2018 elections, Lula is its most prominent target so far.
Judge Sergio Moro, the magistrate leading the “Lava Jato” investigations, questioned Lula Wednesday on charges that he received bribes from a construction company, in the form of renovations on a seaside apartment, in exchange for favourable treatment of its contract bid to the state-controlled oil company Petrobras.
Lula denied having intended to buy the property, which was never in his name.
“There was never an intention to buy it. There was not at the beginning and there was not at the end,” the former president told Moro.
Although the court had not authorized a recording of the proceedings, fragments of it were leaked by local media immediately following Lula’s appearance.
Lula had previously denied the charges, which he describes as politically motivated ploys to keep him from seeking another term as president in 2018 elections. If convicted he could be disqualified from running.
Speaking to supporters in Curitiba, he said he would not be deterred.
“I’m preparing to once again be a candidate in this country. I’ve never been as willing as I am now,” he said.
Lula’s successor, impeached former president Dilma Rousseff, was among thousands of demonstrators who travelled to Curitiba to show support for the former president and leftist Workers Party leader, who remains enormously popular among Brazil’s poor and working classes.
Other demonstrators in Curitiba turned out against him. Moro had made a public appeal to demonstrators to stay home over concerns about confrontations.
Campaigns for both sides flooded social media Wednesday, using the hashtags #LulaEuConfio (Lula I trust) and #MoroOrgulhoBrasileiro (Moro Brazilian pride).