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Brazil's Ex-President Denies Trying to Obstruct Graft Probe

Brazil's former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva looks during an event with rural workers in Brasilia, March 13, 2017.
Brazil's former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva looks during an event with rural workers in Brasilia, March 13, 2017.

Brazil's former president denied in court on Tuesday that he was part of a plot to impede a massive corruption probe and likened the barrage of media attention surrounding the charges against him to a "massacre."

Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is accused, along with several others, of plotting to buy off or otherwise prevent a former state oil company executive from revealing what he knew. Silva testified that he even didn't know the former Petrobras director, Nestor Cervero, and never had contact with him.

"I have absolutely no reason to have any problem with the testimony of Cervero," Silva said, according to a video provided by the court. "No reason at all. I don't know [him]."

State oil giant Petrobras is at the center of a wide-ranging investigation into kickbacks and inflated contracts at state companies. The probe has ensnared scores of high-level politicians and executives. Cervero was convicted in connection with the probe and is cooperating with prosecutors.

At the beginning of nearly an hour of testimony, Silva was asked if he was familiar with the accusations against him and whether they were true. He responded: "The information is false."

Silva, who was president from 2003 to 2010, is also facing charges in a handful of other cases linked to the probe. He has maintained his innocence in all of them, saying the allegations are politically motivated. Despite these legal challenges, Silva is leading some polls for next year's presidential election.

The former president occasionally appeared emotional, frustrated or even angry during Tuesday's testimony, during which he described the difficulty of seeing headlines every day claiming that some businessman or politician was going to level a new accusation against him.

"For about three years now, I have been the victim of, I would say, almost a massacre," he said.

Silva, a union leader turned politician, testified that he was exceptionally careful during his eight years in office to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, saying he skipped dinners, birthday parties and weddings, so he wouldn't find himself in a situation where someone might ask a favor.

The Petrobras probe has grown into the biggest graft investigation in Brazil's history and has shocked even the most cynical of Brazilians for the scale of corruption it has revealed.

On Tuesday, as part of an investigation connected with the probe, federal police arrested two Rio de Janeiro state officials on charges of money laundering and accepting bribes in exchange for contracts for a subway line for the 2016 Olympic Games.

The two arrested were Luiz Carlos Velloso, the state's undersecretary for tourism and former deputy secretary of transportation, and Heitor Lopes de Souza, a director for Rio's subway operator.