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Brazil ex-president testifies before federal public prosecutors in influence peddling probe

RIO DE JANEIRO – Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva testified Thursday before Brazilian federal prosecutors who are investigating allegations of influence peddling, the ex-leader’s foundation said.

In a statement, the Instituto Lula said Silva voluntarily appeared for about 1 1/2 hours at the federal public prosecutor’s office in the capital, Brasilia.

He was questioned in an investigation centring on trips Silva made to several developing nations, including Angola and Cuba, after leaving office. Prosecutors are looking into questions of whether Silva was paid to sway foreign leaders into awarding inflated contracts to Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht and pushed Brazil’s state development bank to give the company well over $1 billion in low-interest loans.

Top executives at Odebrecht have been implicated in a separate kickbacks-for-contracts scheme at Brazil’s state-run oil giant, Petrobras, a case has also engulfed other top Brazilian construction firms and leading lawmakers.

In his testimony, Silva denied any suggestion of impropriety in his activities, his foundation said.

“Lula stressed that he ‘never interfered’ in any contract concluded between the BNDES and private companies,” the statement said, referring to the former leader by his nickname, as Silva is widely known in Brazil. “He always tried to spread the word about these companies abroad, aiming to generate jobs and currency for Brazil.”

The statement said that “ex-presidents from the whole world” assume similar roles, adding that “he also stressed that this was a source of pride for him.”

Under Brazilian law, influence peddling to obtain advantages from a public servant or institution is illegal.

Separately Thursday, in another corruption case shaking Brazil, top newspapers reported that Attorney General Rodrigo Janot has requested a probe be opened against House Speaker Eduardo Cunha after the emergence of documents showing he held secret bank accounts in Switzerland.

Cunha is already the target of a separate investigation into allegations he took part in the sprawling corruption scheme at Petrobras. Cunha maintains his innocence and has repeatedly insisted he won’t step down as speaker of the house.

The newspaper O Globo also said Cunha was in negotiations with a top executive branch official that would keep the speaker in his current role in exchange for not opening impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff, whose popularity has plunged amid the corruption scandals and economic problems. Both Cunha and Rousseff’s office denied any such talks.