Sao Paulo, Mar 5: Brazilian police questioned former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva for about four hours in an investigation into a sprawling corruption case involving state-run oil company Petrobras that has ensnared some of the country's top lawmakers and wealthiest businessmen.
The once-immensely popular president, who governed from 2003 to 2010, angrily denounced the Friday morning raid on his home by police to detain him as part of a campaign to sully his image, that of his party and that of his hand-picked successor, President Dilma Rousseff.
"I felt like a prisoner this morning," said Silva, who has expressed interest in possibly running for president again. At a rally late Friday in Sao Paulo, an emotional Silva insisted on his innocence and blasted those accusing him.
"If they are a cent more honest than I, then I will leave politics," he pledged, his eyes welling with tears. Rousseff also expressed her "total inconformity" with the operation, which she called unnecessary, although she appeared to distance herself from her one-time mentor by only briefly mentioning Silva in an address yesterday afternoon.
Police arrived at about 6 a.m. at Silva's residence in greater Sao Paulo's Sao Bernardo do Campo and spirited the 70-year-old to a federal police station at the city's Congonhas airport. Silva was released after around four hours of questioning.
Police said they also searched the headquarters of his nonprofit foundation Instituto Lula, as well as properties connected to his sons and other family members.
One of his sons was brought in for questioning. Clashes broke out between Silva's supporters and critics outside several sites where police were conducting searches.
After his release, cheering supporters gathered outside Silva's apartment to welcome him home. Judge Sergio Moro, who is heading the Petrobras investigation, said he allowed the police to haul in Silva for security reasons, citing fears that demonstrations could complicate efforts to question him.
He also stipulated that police were not to handcuff or film the former leader. Officials said they were looking into 30 million Brazilian reais (USD 8.12 million) in payments for speeches and donations to the Instituto Lula by construction firms that were crucial players in the Petrobras corruption scheme.
They were also looking into whether renovations and other work at a country house and beachfront apartment used by Silva and his family constituted favors in exchange for political benefit.
"No one is exempt from investigation in this country," said public prosecutor Carlos Fernando dos Santos Lima. "Anyone in Brazil is subject to be investigated when there are indications of a crime."