Currently, the apartment belongs to the construction firm OAS.
Investigators hope to discover whether OAS, which is accused of involvement in the corruption scheme at Petrobras, attempted to use the apartment to illegally benefit the former president. This is the first time that investigations have focused on a business deal directly linked to the former president and his family.
Lula’s wife acquired the lease option in 2005 through the residential cooperative Bancoop, the previous owner of the building.
In 2014, the apartment was completely renovated by OAS. However, in November 2015, Lula’s office told Folha that the family had decided to give up the property, and would request the return of the money they had previously invested.
This occurred after details about the apartment starting appearing in the press, and after former Bancoop president and ex-PT treasurer João Vaccari Neto received a jail sentence for his role in the Petrobras scandal, alongside OAS executives.
As Folha revealed in December, prosecutors obtained statements from engineers and workers in the apartment building, which suggested that Lula’s family members were using the apartment during its construction and reform. They took precautions in order to hide their presence at the property.
The Lava Jato taskforce did not mention Lula at any point during the announcement of the operation on Wednesday. They informed in a generic manner that all apartments in the building will be investigated, in order to determine whether OAS used them to pay bribes related to the corruption scheme at Petrobras.
The building was not the target of any search and seizure measure on Wednesday. However, the judge Sergio Moro authorized searches of OAS and Bancoop documents in order to clarify the involvement of Lula’s family with the apartment.
When asked if Lula was a target of the operation, Federal Prosecutor Carlos Fernando Lima said “We just investigate the facts. If the apartment is in his name, or if he, or anyone else from his family, negotiated it, we will investigate, as we would with anyone else.”
Prosecutors said that they will focus on apartments that “arouse a high degree of suspicion regarding their true ownership.”
Lula’s involvement with the apartment is also being investigated by the São Paulo Public Prosecutor. The prosecutor Cassio Conserino claims to have obtained enough evidence through the investigation to charge Lula with money laundering.
Among the apartments being investigated, ten belong to OAS, while one is registered in the name of the offshore Murray Holdings, which is based in Panama.
Members of the taskforce say they have evidence which suggests this company was used to conceal wealth and pay bribes.
As a result, Judge Moro ordered the temporary detention (for five days) of the publicist Nelci Warken, who is suspected of being one of the operators of the scheme involving the offshore, acting on behalf of her relatives and others linked to a firm responsible for Murray’s opening.
Translated by TOM GATEHOUSE