Brazil's leftist former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva testified for almost five hours Wednesday in a corruption trial that has divided the country and could scupper his chances of a comeback in 2018 elections.
Lula, who is charged in four other corruption cases as well, is the highest-profile defendant in a sprawling corruption probe known as "Operation Car Wash".
"Even if they were to prove that everything he has done was wrong, I would still vote for him", said Gabriel Marshall, an 18-year-old member of the Landless Workers Movement who made a ten-hour bus trip from his cooperative farm in Parana state. His passionate supporters gathering in the southern city of Curitiba agree.
Upon leaving the courtroom, Lula whisked himself away to a massive campaign style rally in Curitibia, where he was greeted by faithful followers sporting the red of Lula's Workers' Party chanting, "Lula, warrior of the Brazilian people". He said Moro was the puppet of darker forces that masterminded the controversial impeachment of Rousseff in 2016 - a process she and Lula describe as a coup. "We came to back up the rural workers who are strengthening the fight for democracy".
The former president has repeatedly said he is innocent of all charges.
Lula, whose 2003-2010 rule left him loved by the left and equally loathed on the right, would be by far Moro's biggest scalp.
But now facing a total of five corruption cases, he is fighting for his reputation and the chance for an epic comeback in elections next year.
Brazil Judge denies request to delay ex-president's hearing
- Net closing on Lula?
One is the country's most popular president ever and the front-runner in next year's election - a former union leader who still whips up crowds with his fiery and folksy oratory.
The much-anticipated encounter between Lula and Federal Judge Sérgio Moro, the man conducting Operation Car Wash, lasted for nearly 5 hours.
He is weighing allegations that Lula accepted a luxury seaside apartment near Sao Paulo as a bribe from the OAS construction company. A Brazilian federal judge on Tuesday, May 9, 2017, refused a request by lawyers representing the former president to delay his hearing on the benefits he allegedly received from the huge kickback scheme uncovered at state-owned oil company Petrobras.
More than 90 powerful businessmen and politicians have been convicted, while scores of sitting federal congressmen and one-third of President Michel Temer's cabinet are being probed. Early polls have put Lula as a clear victor in the contest - but if he were found guilty and his conviction upheld by a higher court, he would be unable to run. To which Lula responded: "I was fully aware of that". "It will be a very interesting face-to-face interrogation". He has signalled his interest in running for president in 2018, and leads in polls. "I thought after... there would at least be a document that the apartment was mine", he told them.
"The idea is to make sure there is no contact between the two groups", said Curitiba public safety chief Wagner Mesquita.More news: US extends sanctions relief under Iran nuclear deal
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