SAO PAULO (AP) — Testimony began Monday in the first corruption trial to open against Brazil's former president, who faces charges in a wide-ranging investigation that has ensnared many of the country's political and business elite.
The broader investigation into a scheme of kickbacks involving the state oil company Petrobras, construction companies and politicians has roiled Brazilian politics, surprising many for both the scale of the alleged corruption but also the determination of the judiciary to see it through.
Arrests of high-level politicians or businessmen have seemed to come every week, a sea change in a country where such crimes had long been met with impunity, said Sergio Praca, a political scientist at the Fundacao Getulio Vargas university in Rio de Janeiro.
"There were a dozen times when it could have stopped, but it didn't," he said, noting that the ground was laid during a smaller corruption prosecution at the beginning of the decade.
In the case before the court Monday, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who was president from 2003 to 2010, faces charges of corruption and money laundering for allegedly accepting more than a million dollars in bribes from construction company OAS, which has been targeted in the Petrobras investigation.
The case centers on ownership of and renovations to a penthouse apartment in a Brazilian coastal town that officially belongs to OAS, but prosecutors say is really owned by Silva.
On Monday, Judge Sergio Moro will hear testimony from a former senator and three businessmen. Others will testify throughout the week.
Silva has vociferously denied the allegations, in this case and two others in which he faces charges.
Still, it seems likely that he will be convicted, Praca said. That would be remarkable in its own right, but would also pose a problem for his Worker's Party, which is holding out hope that Silva will be able to be its presidential candidate in 2018, despite his current unpopularity.
Silva has asserted that the prosecutions are politically motivated and last week his defense filed a complaint against Moro, alleging abuse of power.
Similar allegations have been hurled before, but Moro and prosecutors have charged ahead.