, SAO PAULO, Mar 4 – Police searched the home of Brazil’s powerful ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and detained him for questioning Friday in a probe into a huge corruption scheme.
Agents searched his house in Sao Paulo, the offices of the Lula Institute, and houses of family members, Jose Chrispiniano, a spokesman for Lula and his institute, told AFP.
The federal police also issued a statement confirming earlier media reports of the dramatic development in Brazil’s corruption probe, dubbed Operation Car Wash.
Officials said that a major sweep including detentions and searches of properties had taken place in three states as police deepened their probe into a vast embezzlement and bribery conspiracy centered on national oil company Petrobras.
Authorities were to hold a press conference at 1300 GMT.
“About 200 federal police and 30 auditors served 44 warrants, including 33 warrants for search and seizure and 11 for detention for questioning,” the federal police said.
The operations in Rio de Janeiro, Bahia and Sao Paulo states involved probes into “corruption and money laundering, among other crimes practiced by various people in the context of the Petrobras criminal scheme.”
The news came a day after a bombshell claim by a Brazilian magazine that a former close ally of Lula and current President Dilma Rousseff — a senator who has already been charged in the Car Wash probe — was preparing to testify against them.
The report, although unconfirmed, sparked a furious reaction from Rousseff’s government and the president said in a speech that fighting corruption was her “first priority.”
Operation Car Wash has already netted a Who’s Who of Brazilian politicians and businessmen. These include numerous high-ranking figures from Rousseff’s Workers’ Party, including a former treasurer.
Lula, who was president from 2003-2010 and remains one of Brazil’s most influential figures, is being investigated over alleged ownership of a luxury apartment and a country house.
The properties, which he says do not belong to him, were allegedly renovated by companies accused in the Petrobras corruption scheme.
Both Lula and Rousseff are also facing political heat after the arrest of their former campaign manager, Joao Santana, who allegedly took money originally embezzled from Petrobras.